Craig (Cusack) is a scruffy, struggling puppeteer/performance artist who can't make ends meet so he takes a job as a filing clerk in an eccentric New York office building. But all of this has put a serious stress on him and his pet-collecting wife Lotte (Diaz, unrecognizable in a frizzy brown hairdo), and he's soon attracted to his sultry new coworker Maxine (Keener). Then Craig discovers a small door in his office that leads into the head of actor John Malkovich, and soon Craig and Maxine have a business going, allowing the paying public to be Malkovich for 15-minutes. But wrinkles develop: Craig, Maxine and Lotte start playing strange head games with each other as they assume Malkovich's identity ... and then the actor figures out what's going on. Well, at least part of it.
The most pleasant surprise is how this outlandish premise works on such a personal level. The humour ranges from broad comedy (the half-height of Craig's new workplace) to the absurd (Malkovich's trip into his own head) to acerbic wickedness. And the actors are terrific, with great performances that bring real heart and soul to the piece. This contrasts the sheer daring of it all with a warm-hearted (albeit very complicated) romantic centre that examines themes of trust, identity, fame and even mortality. And even when a big-conspiracy subplot threatens to take over, the film is still much, much more than a wacky comedy.
[15--themes, language, sex] 10.Nov.99
US release 29.Oct.99; UK release 17.Mar.00
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