‘Dirty Weekend’
Director:
Neil LaBute
Stars: Matthew Broderick, Alice Eve
Rating: NR
2 (out of 5) Globes

Neil LaBute has long eked out his own little corner of the world as a chronicler of humankind at its most base and Cro-Magnon — a species willing to commit undue psychological harm while placating their worst instincts. But even the mightiest misanthrope chills with age. LaBute has occasionally made leftfield, sometimes bizarre segues away from himself, and we mean that literally: he’s adapted books (“Possession”) and other movies (the “Death at a Funeral” remake) that he didn’t write and which seem oddly and comparatively nice, if not quite sunny. Those projects appear to have rubbed off. “Dirty Weekend” isn’t a cute movie, and even describing it as optimistic would be going too far. But it tries to marry his old yen for self-deception with a look at a relationship that’s ultimately one that’s warm. Or a warm-ish, anyway.

Matthew Broderick and Alice Eve are Les and Natalie, colleagues at an anonymous corporation, on an anonymous office trip that deposits them, unwittingly, in a protracted layover in an anonymous Middle America city. In this case it’s Albuquerque, and they have so little to do that Les announces he’s leaving their anonymous business hotel for a mystery trip into town. This irks Natalie, who’s desire to not be left alone overshadows her desire to actually spend time with a coworker. As it turns out Les is on a fact-finding mission, one looking into what happened long ago during a different stayover in Albuquerque, during which he got blackout drunk and suspects he did something that, for him, and maybe for most people, was a little crazy.

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If this were the LaBute of old, the particular skeletons that come tumbling out of Les’ closet would be cause for alarm, and everyone would learn a valuable lesson about the evils of people. Instead, “Dirty Weekend” remains both nicely progressive and only lightly satirical. Les is a tight-ass, played so squirmingly by Broderick that most of his early lines are delivered with an inhuman stiffness (which is to say he’s kind of awful). There’s some delight in discovering Les’ secret, latent peccadilloes, but “Dirty Weekend” winds up taking the high road, watching as his inner self turns out not to be heinous or even bad but rather good. Broderick’s performance relaxes and we’re meant to enjoy as he straddles discomfort and an unexpected ease with what he finds.

LaBute going soft — and not scolding or retrograde — is a nice turn, but there’s not much else going on in “Dirty Weekend.” That’s not true: It’s got Alice Eve, who killed in LaBute’s previous film, “Some Velvet Morning,” which was also a two-hander, albeit one that turned out nastier than it for most of the length let on. Eve knows her way around LaBute’s snappy dialogue, but she’s mostly finessing go-nowhere chatter that feels distinctly second draft. Les and Natalie spend a lot of time talking around subjects but in ways that rarely feel inspired, even deigning to indulge in pop culture riffs about “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” (It is nice, though, to see a movie about a man and a woman largely free of sexual tension; Natalie is a lesbian whose affection for Les stops at the friend level.) It all needs a spit-shine, something other than the novelty of being a positive film by someone who’s usually resolutely negative.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge