Bill Murray is at his best in St. Vincent, an entertaining story about a grumpy old cuss and a young kid. The film skirts this close to sappiness, but Murray's performance is so good that I didn't mind. At first, his character fluctuates between being acerbic, shell-shocked and wildly self indulgent. As the film progresses, we learn things that put his behavior into context without apologizing for it. Whatever is happening, the character remains interesting and more than the sum of his quirks. Murray absolutely nails the role, even if his accent is spotty. He's funny too, but only when it is natural for the moment.

I'm stressing this upfront because when I describe the story, it's going to sound like a hundred cornball flicks you've seen before. The difference is that the interactions between Murray and the boy feel like the real thing. That sense of authenticity allows the film to transcends the clichés, more or less. Your mileage may vary.

Murray plays Vincent, a coot who shares his house in Brooklyn with a cat named Felix. The only outsider welcome in his home is Daka (Naomi Watts), a pregnant Russian who is his "regular" prostitute. Vincent's routine gets interrupted when new neighbors move in. Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) is a medical professional raising her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) on her own.

Vincent is low on money. He spends a lot at a variety of places, including the racetrack. When Oliver shows up at Vincent's one day and asks if he can stay there until his mom gets home from work, the grouch reluctantly says yes. Maggie later offers him $12 an hour to babysit Oliver on a regular basis, Vincent agrees and all is well, sorta. What Maggie doesn't know is that Vincent simply incorporates the boy into his routines, including visits to bars, strip clubs, the track and a nursing home where he visits an Alzheimer's patient (Donna Mitchell) who thinks he's her doctor.

What else should I tell you? At Catholic school, Oliver's enthusiastic teacher (the always enjoyable Chris O'Dowd) assigns his students a project: report on a person they know that deserves to be chronicled in a paper on the theme "Saints Among Us." Writer-director Theodore Melfi's daughter was given a similar assignment and wrote about Melfi, which inspired him to write the film.

Thankfully, Murray's fine performance is complemented by young Lieberher, who has a natural quality about him. McCarthy offers a fine performance as Maggie, toning down her loud and loose comic persona to create a relatable person trying to manage too much at once. Watts lays it on a bit thick as the Russian hooker, but with the rest of the cast working so hard on keeping the proceedings real, her choice to go broader adds a nice bit of zest.

St. Vincent shows what can happen to a routine story when it's presented by an exceptional cast. It's one of the most enjoyable films I've seen this year.


John Wick

★★★1/2 (out of five)

Hey look, it's an action movie — a good action movie! Keanu Reeves plays the title character, an ex-mob assassin who comes out of retirement when … oh, who the hell cares. There's big bad guys and Wick must battle his way through a lot of people to reach them. The film is co-directed by former stunt men and they know their business. While allowing a few minutes to breathe, the movie sets and maintains a powerful momentum. Reeves is charismatic and kind of otherworldly, and the stunts are shot and presented clearly enough that you can tell what's going on. What else do you need? Oh, ignore the prologue — it gives away too much.



Ouija is based on the Hasbro board game, which is less a game and more just a board with a thingie on top that everyone puts their fingers on, ask questions and watches in amazement as it moves on its own to provide spooky messages. Please note that it doesn't move on its own unless it's being touched by people eager to have a spooky experience. My suggestion is that you get out your Ouija board and play with that instead of going to this half-baked tale of some girls who get involved with the wrong spirit. Blah.

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Ed Johnson-Ott has been NUVO's lead film critic for more than 20 years.