Review: 'Up in the Air'

(Three stars)

Jason Reitman directs one of the most relevant comedies to come along in years, with dashing George Clooney as his impossibly perfect wingman.

Clooney is professional downsizer Ryan Bingham, a certified "transition specialist" with an arsenal of pretty platitudes (think of this as a re-birth!) at his disposal for doing a company's dirty work and salving the wounds of unemployment. Ryan loves his job so much that recycled air, artificial lighting and TSA security checks are warm reminders that he's home. What do you expect from a guy whose lifelong dream is to log 10 million miles on his frequent-flyer program?

Ryan meets his match in Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), a sexy mileage junkie equally as turned on by elite status and sleekly wheeled luggage. Theirs is a match made in heaven -- and hour-long intervals in Omaha, Modesto and Wichita.

Ryan's carefully crafted cocoon threatens to rupture when savvy supervisor Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman) hires wet-behind-the-ears consultant Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) to eviscerate 85 percent of the travel budget and take the company "glocal" -- global-turning-local to you and me.

Ryan and Natalie set off for Detroit and a series of test firings to prove their points. His that the proper sack requires face-to-face commitment; hers that a disembodied computer presence combined with a good T1 line is just as effective. Let the games begin!

Reitman gets it right on almost all fronts: the thrills and agony of 270 days a year on the road, the pain of the newly unwaged and the pitfalls of minimizing legal blowback. Add to this a pair of budding friendships rife with drama and a razor-thin line dividing personal from the professional.

Clooney is aces with a glib delivery and killer smile and deserves every one of his year-end plaudits. Farmiga is magnificent -- not her fault that the story's weak link comes at her expense. Kendrick is practically perfect as the upbeat, fragile newbie facing life's hardest lessons.

Scripting is wry and sharp -- all comic strum and urgency. This one's a winner.

Rated R for language and sexual content. 1 hour, 49 minutes.

— Jeanne Aufmuth

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