The ubiquitous Giamatti plays Mike Flaherty, a lawyer in suburban New Jersey whose practice is going down the drain (a state of affairs heavyhandedly symbolised by his attempts to fix the office dunny because he can't afford a plumber).

He sees a chance to rescue himself by taking the guardianship of an incipiently senile client who is estranged from his only family, a wastrel daughter. All he has to do is lie - to the court and his wife - and park the old bugger in a rest home while he pockets the monthly fee. It's all working out quite well until the daughter's son Kyle (Shaffer), turns up looking for Grandpa.

What follows is a largely predictable redemption narrative which is remarkable mainly for distilling its ideas about struggle into a heavy-handedly symbolic wrestling subplot (Mike's a coach; Kyle's a surprise hotshot).

The plot carpentry is plainly visible at times - some scenes are frankly clunky - and the denouement skirts a little too delicately, while holding its nose, around the small problem of an officer of the court lying to a judge.

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The film's real rewards are to be found in its supporting roles: expatriate Kiwi Lynskey is a nice mix of fragile and grasping as Kyle's Mum; Cannavale (the non-dwarf bloke in The Station Agent) is great as Mike's meathead mate, like Seinfeld's Kramer without the nice shirts; Tambor is terrific as Mike's lugubrious coaching partner; and Thompson is the wrestling team weakling who ... well, I wouldn't want to spoil that, would I?

There's a real warmth and generosity of spirit about all McCarthy's work and it is plainly in evidence here. But the film lacks the machine-tooled precision of his first two and, compared to the marvellous Giamatti's recent outings, is a slight disappointment.

Stars: 3/5
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Melanie Lynskey, Alex Shaffer, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, David W Thompson
Director: Tom McCarthy
Running time: 106 mins
Rating: M (offensive language)
Verdict: The third feature by McCarthy, who made the charmingly offbeat The Station Agent and the heartfelt The Visitor, is an indie comedy drama that is about as edgy as a cuddly toy.

- TimeOut