When describing the characters in Smart People, numerous adjectives come more readily to mind than "smart." Obnoxious? Check. Narcissistic? Check. Downright artificial? Check there, too. In fact, the smartest person involved with Smart People may be whoever tried so hard to remind its viewers of better films, who therefore may have helped lasso in a bigger audience than this film deserves. Smart People is shot on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, the same school that served as the model for Wonder Boys -- and that's not nearly the only theft from that story of an intellectual college professor with personal problems. The casting of Ellen Page (Juno) and Thomas Haden Church (Sideways) seems designed to bring their hit films' vicarious good vibes as well. The relationship between those characters (a high-school genius with a crush on her layabout uncle) may be Smart People's most bogus, but at least it has a certain watchability. Not so for the central pairing of Dennis Quaid and Sarah Jessica Parker, whose total lack of chemistry is as universally apparent as something that intangible ever gets. Quaid in particular seems ill-suited to this material, as one of Hollywood's most consistently likeable actors plays a depressive, self-absorbed, socially retarded and in all other ways disagreeable man, whose ability to attract the much-younger Parker is dubious indeed. Merely to ramp up the eccentricity factor, he's given quirks like an undiagnosed medical disorder and a fear of riding on the right side of an automobile -- neither of which bears fruit in the narrative. In fact, the entire story flails around without meaning, piling miserable set pieces together until the merciful end. Split the blame between novice screenwriter Mark Jude Poirier and novice director Noam Murro, and move on to something a lot less dumb.
by Derek Armstrong review