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Cold Souls

Is being Paul Giamatti less enjoyable than being John Malkovich? Judging by Cold Souls the answer is yes. In fact, it’s something of a soul-shriveling experience. Giamatti plays himself—a trumped-up version—as Malkovich did in Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich, but there’s a lot less fun involved, particularly for the audience.

Sophie Barthes’ whimsically allegorical film is heavy going for much of its length, sometimes intentionally as Barthes waxes philosophical. The buildup is brief and to the point. Giamatti, rehearsing the title role in a New York production of Uncle Vanya, feels such an oppressive spiritual burden that he responds to a Yellow Pages ad for a firm called Soul Storage. It promises relief if “your soul is weighing you down.” A genially authoritative scientist (David Strathairn in a dryly droll turn) explains that his invention can easily and painlessly extract a client’s soul and store it until he is ready for it to be reinserted.

Giamatti undergoes the procedure (clients are placed in something that looks like an MRI unit) and, of course, complications ensue.

Cold Souls promises rather more than it conveys. Barthes’ film is too much conceit and too little execution. As its plot moves into an illegal Russian soul-harvesting and smuggling operation—with, excuse me, a soulful mule (Dina Korzun)—Barthes moves uncertainly between satire and a tragicomic tone. Giamatti’s performance as “himself” alternates much of the time between sounding rather like Wallace Shawn and Richard Dreyfuss. Finally, Cold Souls is neither zany nor thoughtful enough.

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Watch the trailer for Cold Souls

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