Chris Cooper, sad-eyed and tight-lipped as ever, feels all wrong for the central role of Harry Allen, a middle-aged exec who's fallen for a woman who is not his wife. That woman would be Kay Nesbitt, a platinum blond war widow played by Rachel McAdams. It's not the age difference between the veteran Cooper and the fresh-faced star (25 years, for the record) that's the problem, it's that the obsessive adoration Harry is supposed to feel for Kay, and that she says she feels for him, just isn't palpable.
Nor is the sexual dynamic between Harry's best friend, Richard (Pierce Brosnan), and Kay. He's a career bachelor, a ladykiller, and after Harry confesses his unfaithfulness to Richard, and Richard meets Kay, he gets that urge. Never mind his allegiance to Harry - they've been pals since childhood - or Richard's respect for Harry's wife, Pat (Patricia Clarkson). He starts plotting a seduction.
But when Richard and Kay exchange a cigarette in a scene that's designed to crackle with erotic tension, it doesn't. Brosnan's stilted voice-over - a device that runs through the film - is part of the problem, but not all of it.
Married Life looks good, and all four actors - oddly matched though they are - are interesting to watch. But this quiet, closed-in picture with its unsurprising twists and turns, lacks the steamy passion of its pulp roots, and misses the sly panache of a dark, cynical comedy, too.
One of Married Life's executive producers is Bruce Toll, chairman of Philadelphia Media Holdings L.L.C., which owns The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com.
Married Life **1/2 (out of four stars)
Directed by Ira Sachs. With Pierce Brosnan, Patricia Clarkson, Chris Cooper and Rachel McAdams. Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (adult themes)
Playing at: Ritz East and Showcase at the Ritz Center/NJ
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or email@example.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.