Op­er­a­tion Fi­nale

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Di­rec­tor: Chris Weitz

Cast: Os­car Isaac, Ben Kings­ley, Mélanie Lau­rent

In the show’s first two episodes, spiky scripts from Hol­stein and lightly sur­real di­rec­tion from Gondry em­pha­size the enor­mous gulf be­tween the op­ti­mism ra­di­at­ing from Mr. Pick­les and the real-world ni­hilism sur­round­ing him. Jeff’s ex-wife, Jill (Judy Greer), shuf­fles with dead­ened eyes through the house where they once lived as a happy family, re­leas­ing her grief in waves of fury that he blithely blinks away. His sur­viv­ing son, Will (Cole Allen), has started adopt­ing his brother’s re­bel­lious streak, rolling his eyes at the magic tricks he once loved and re­ject­ing his fa­ther’s bleed­ing heart when­ever he of­fers it up.

But Jeff can’t even re­treat to the once safe haven of “Pup­pet Time.” The acer­bic master­mind be­hind the pup­pets is his sis­ter, Deirdre (Cather­ine Keener), who’s go­ing through her own family cri­sis of faith. And his fa­ther, Seb (Frank Lan­gella), is the show’s ruth­lessly prag­matic pro­ducer; he wrin­kles his nose at Jeff call­ing view­ers “friends” and re­fuses to en­ter­tain his de­sire to be straight­for­ward with chil­dren about tough top­ics like death.

Ev­ery­one or­bit­ing Jeff, in other words, is an ex­hausted shell of a per­son. He tries to smooth down their rough edges, in­sist­ing that kind­ness can be magic and some­day they’ll let them­selves un­der­stand that. But it’s un­clear whether “Kid­ding” truly be­lieves that Jeff’s do­ing them a dis­ser­vice by gloss­ing over their pain in his quest for the sil­ver lin­ing in ev­ery dark­ened cloud.

There are a cou­ple glanc­ing at­tempts to rec­og­nize this, es­pe­cially as Jill does the ver­bal equiv­a­lent of grab­bing her ex-hus­band by the shoul­ders and shak­ing him into ad­mit­ting he’s mis­er­able. But de­spite Greer’s best ef­forts (and she is as great as ever), “Kid­ding” none­the­less por­trays Jill less as a voice of rea­son than as an acidic killjoy dat­ing some new guy (Justin Kirk, prac­ti­cally un­rec­og­niz­able with sil­ver hair) who wants noth­ing more than to make Jeff hurt. “Bit­ter ex-wife” is a dis­ap­point­ing trope for the show to lean on, and even when it at­tempts to flesh Jill out, “Kid­ding” in­evitably has her snap back into her orig­i­nal form, like a rub­ber band that can’t help re­tract­ing.

The show takes a the­matic turn after Hol­stein and Gondry step away to let oth­ers write and di­rect. Jeff’s quest to sow de­cency through­out a cold world largely gets aban­doned in fa­vor of his as­sert­ing his in­di­vid­u­al­ity and re­belling against the con­fines of be­ing the placid TV per­sona. This is a per­fectly rea­son­able avenue to ex­plore, but it never quite clicks — and the prob­lem lies with Mr. Pick­les.

As Jeff, Car­rey does his best to em­body the con­flict of his char­ac­ter ex­ist­ing in a lim­i­nal place be­tween pleas­ant car­toon and flesh-and-blood hu­man. (At one point, Jill demon­strates that she knows how to wound Jeff by call­ing him “Santa Claus” through a sneer.) De­pend­ing on what the scene calls for, Jeff swings be­tween be­ing a thor­oughly kind adult who just wants to make peo­ple smile and an as­ton­ish­ingly child­like naif who thinks his flip phone is bro­ken when a woman doesn’t text him back right away.

It also be­comes ap­par­ent over the course of the four episodes re­viewed that “Kid­ding” un­der­stands the idea of Mr. Pick­les (who, as Seb puts it, is the smil­ing “$112 mil­lion li­cens­ing in­dus­try of edu­tain­ing toys, DVDS, and books”) far more than it does Jeff (a “sep­a­rated hus­band and griev­ing fa­ther who needs to ham­mer out a few dents in his psy­che”). And de­spite Seb’s in­sis­tence that there is a firm dis­tinc­tion be­tween the two, the show and Car­rey’s per­for­mance suggest oth­er­wise.

As Jeff strug­gles to move for­ward through the sludge of his grief, he keeps get­ting stuck. He’s caught in a loop — at­tempt­ing to bridge the gap be­tween his Tech­ni­color pup­pet utopia and the rapidly gray­ing re­al­ity around him. And so, it seems, is “Kid­ding.” CRED­ITS: Ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers: Dave Hol­stein, Jim Car­rey, Michel Gondry, Michael Aguilar, Roberto Ben­abib, Raffi Ad­lan, Ja­son Bate­man, Jim Gar­avente. 30 MIN. Cast: Jim Car­rey, Judy Greer, Frank Lan­gella, Cather­ine Keener, Cole Allen, Justin Kirk, Gin­ger Gon­zaga

There’s a cer­tain kind of true-life thriller that ben­e­fits from be­ing made in a rough-around-the- edges way. “Op­er­a­tion Fi­nale” is one of those films. It’s a drama about how Is­raeli agents from the Mos­sad and Shin Bet, in 1960, learned where Adolf Eich­mann, the no­to­ri­ous Nazi war crim­i­nal, had dis­ap­peared to — Ar­gentina — and went on a hunt to cap­ture him. They ex­tracted him from a sub­urb of Buenos Aires, where he was hid­ing in plain sight, and brought him to Is­rael, where he stood trial for war crimes in the leg­endary 1961 court­room marathon that was more than just the trial of one man. In many ways, it dragged the full aware­ness of Nazi atroc­i­ties onto the world stage for the first time.

The last thing you want a movie like this one to feel like is a slick Hol­ly­wood sus­pense drama with his­tor­i­cal names plugged in. “Op­er­a­tion Fi­nale” doesn’t feel like that, yet taken on its own Here’s how it re­ally hap­pened terms, the movie is at once plau­si­ble and sketchy, in­trigu­ing and not fully sat­is­fy­ing. Steven Spiel­berg set the gold stan­dard for ex­is­ten­tial Mos­sad man­hunt drama with “Mu­nich,” where the ac­tion was height­ened by a pierc­ing sting of re­al­ity. “Op­er­a­tion Fi­nale,” di­rected by Chris Weitz from a script by Matthew Or­ton, is like a patchy Tv-movie ver­sion of “Mu­nich.” There are mo­ments of fas­ci­na­tion, but it’s hard to sep­a­rate the catch-as­catch- can as­pect of the Mos­sad’s hunt­ing

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