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‘Wish I Was Here’: Whiny lead scrubs any hope of fun

Another slo-mo walk for laughs? Really? Aimless twerp Aidan (Zach Braff enter) takes his kids (Pierce Gagnleft Joey King) an

Another slo-mo walk for laughs? Really? Aimless twerp Aidan (Zach Braff, enter) takes his kids (Pierce Gagnon, left, and Joey King) on an outing in “Wish I Was Here.” | FOCUS FEATURES

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Aidan Zach Braff

Sarah Kate Hudson

Grace Joey King

Tucker Pierce Gagnon

Gabe Mandy Patinkin

Focus Features presents a film directed by Zach Braff and written by Adam and Zach Braff. Running time: 106 minutes. Rated R (for language and some sexual content). Opens Friday at local theaters.

Updated: August 19, 2014 6:14AM

Director/co-writer/actor Zach Braff’s “Wish I Was Here” is a precious and condescending exercise in self-indulgent pandering, featuring one of the whiniest lead characters in recent memory.

I didn’t like it.

Braff hit all the right indie-hipster-with-a-heart notes with his directorial debut, “Garden State,” a decade ago, but he misfires here. From his inconsistently written lead character to the irritating music to the cheap-looking fantasy sequences, it’s one stumble after another.

I mean, come on. A scene featuring humorously decked-out characters walking in slow motion, for comedic effect? How many times have we seen that move?

The problems for “Wish I Was Here” start (and continue throughout) with the protagonist, Aidan Bloom (Braff). He’s a thirtysomething family man who continues to pursue his dream of becoming an actor (and prattling on about how he has the right to pursue his dream of becoming an actor) even as his father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin), pays for the kids to attend private Jewish day school, his wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson), is working a soul-killing, dead-end job to put food on the table, and the backyard looks like a sanctuary for rodents and situations requiring tetanus vaccines.

This guy Aidan’s quite the shameless twerp. He’s so clueless he claims his wife has “her dream job.” Apparently she’s never come home from work once and mentioned how much she hates it. A few scenes later, Aidan admits to Sarah he has no idea what her dreams are. And they’ve been married for more than a decade? Way to pay attention, pal. “Wish I Was Here” indeed.

Aidan often daydreams he’s playing a sci-fi hero in a spacesuit, running away from an ominous black-hooded entity. Whenever he’s snapped back to reality, he’s petulant about the state of his life.

Josh Gad plays Aidan’s brother Noah, who’s even more of an aimless Peter Pan than Aidan. Noah lives in a trailer, tweeting insults to Miley Cyrus (creepy) and “blogging” about whatever it is one blogs about from inside a dark trailer with all the windows covered.

No wonder Gabe’s disappointed in his sons. He should be. Neither one seems to have grasped the concept of supporting oneself or functioning in the day-to-day real world.

When Gabe’s cancer returns and he opts for an experimental treatment he’ll have to pay for out of pocket, it means Gabe can’t pay for the kids’ schooling any more. Aidan reacts by marching straight to the school to ask for an act of charity. A rabbi tells him to get an actual job. (Correct answer.) Aidan’s response? He starts home-schooling his children, with predictably disastrous (but not particularly funny) results.

As Gabe’s condition worsens, “Wish I Was Here” takes a number of arbitrary detours. Noah builds an elaborate costume and attends Comic-Con. Aidan’s daughter sports a brightly colored wig after she chops off her hair in a religious fervor, while his 6-year-old son has a thing for keeping a working power drill under his pillow. (Great parenting.)

There’s more. Sarah’s cubicle mate is a sexist pig. Aidan dips into the family “Swear Jar” for cash — literally carrying the giant jar with him into stores, because that’s (allegedly) funnier than Aidan simply taking the money out of the jar and putting it in his pocket.

Oh, and an ancient rabbi rides a Segway down a hospital corridor, because … well, just because.

The unshaven Braff looks his age, which is late 30s, making his “I don’t want to give up my dream” character all the more unlikable. Patinkin nicely underplays his scenes — not something this great actor always does when given a role such as this. Hudson’s just fine in an underwritten role. These are talented actors. They just don’t have a fully realized movie to work with.


Twitter: @richardroeper

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