Wilde, Rock­well dis­pense a tonic, but Fonda’s nar­ra­tion is toxic

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - South Broward - - MOVIES - By Roger Moore

Dis­so­lute, strung-out and in re­volt against adult­hood — those screen traits are right in Sam Rock­well’s wheel­house. Yes, he can play it straight, and yes, he has range. But muss his hair, red­den his eyes and hide his ra­zor, and you have a poster boy for wasted days and wasted nights.

“Bet­ter Liv­ing Through Chem­istry” has Rock­well play­ing a phar­ma­cist lured into “get­ting high on his own sup­ply” by the un­happy tro­phy wife of a cus­tomer, played by OIivia Wilde. Since Wilde has made her rep­u­ta­tion as temp­ta­tion in­car­nate, we get it.

But Doug (Rock­well) has rea­sons far be­yond the Wilde child’s good­ies. He’s in an un­happy mar­riage with an ex­er­cise-aholic harpy (Michelle Mon­aghan), rais­ing an in­so­lent 12-year-old son (Har­ri­son Holzer) and fend­ing off an over­bear­ing fa­ther-in-law (Ken Howard) who just sold him the phar­macy where Doug has put in his time, but who re­fuses to let Doug change the name of the place from the old man’s name to his.

“Doug had got­ten very good at hid­ing dis­ap­point­ment over the years,” Jane Fonda, as Jane Fonda, nar­rates.

And that’s where “Bet­ter Liv­ing” starts to go wrong. Put-upon Doug may re­volt, may start a tor­rid af­fair with rich, spoiled El­iz­a­beth (Wilde) and start raid­ing the “candy store” that is his phar­macy, mix­ing up his chem­i­cals in aid to his viril­ity, his stamina and his ef­forts to have the life he wants.

But this edgy com­edy ut­terly aban­dons its edge, time and again, through a cloy­ing, self-aware nar­ra­tion writ­ten for Fonda, sort of a part-time res­i­dent/ ob­server and nar­ra­tor of Doug’s sad story.

“Any­one can take a pill,” Fonda purrs, “but only a phar­ma­cist knows how to make one.”

Fair enough, but when Jane as Jane starts to com­ment on Doug’s wife, Kara, and her ma­nia for cy­cling and ex­er­cise classes, watch out. “I know a thing or two about work­ing out,” Fonda cracks, and the wink­ing script be­comes a painful fa­cial tic.

Ev­ery emas­cu­lat­ing mo­ment with Kara is bal­anced with a heated romp with El­iz­a­beth, so that be­fore long Doug and his paramour are talk­ing about solv­ing their mu­tual “prob­lems” through chem­istry. Olivia Wilde and Sam Rock­well co-star in the film “Bet­ter Liv­ing Through Chem­istry.” No MPAA rat­ing (with drug and al­co­hol abuse, sex, van­dal­ism and pro­fan­ity wor­thy of an R) Run­ning time: 1:31 Opens: Fri­day Might El­iz­a­beth’s ab­sen­tee hus­band (Ray Liotta) just … go away?

First-time co-writer/ di­rec­tors Ge­off Moore and David Posamentier deliver sev­eral laugh-out-loud mo­ments and the odd de­li­cious twist — van­dal­ism as a way of fa­ther-son bond­ing, and per­for­mance en­hanc­ing drugs played for ath­letic laughs.

But the cloy­ing nar­ra­tion and the in­clu­sion of Fonda are just warn­ings for that mo­ment, 70 min­utes in, when this comic chemical train goes com­pletely off the rails.

Rock­well, Wilde and Mon­aghan are worth the price of ad­mis­sion, but “Bet­ter Liv­ing” would have been bet­ter off with more chem­istry and less cutesy.

BILL GRAY/SA­MUEL GOLD­WYN FILMS

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