In 'Dark Matter,' starring Meryl Streep, brilliant minds spar in academic debates. But 'Smart People,' with Dennis Quaid, Ellen Page, and Sarah Jessica Parker, could have used more intelligence.
New in theaters Dark Matter (R)
Don't be fooled by the presence of Meryl Streep in the cast. This glum, inert psychological drama features little of her presence – and could have used much more. She plays the wealthy patron of an American university who befriends an increasingly troubled Chinese doctoral candidate in physics. When his theories about the nature of the universe challenge those of his professor, played by Aidan Quinn, he runs up against something even more indomitable than black holes: academic infighting. Chen Shi-Zheng, well regarded as an opera and theater director, makes his feature film debut. – Peter Rainer
Smart People (R)
Dennis Quaid plays Lawrence Wetherhold, a self-absorbed widower and literature professor in the ironically titled comedy "Smart People," in which most of the smart people act dumb. Dysfunction is the order of the day in Lawrence's laissez-faire household – his black-sheep daughter (Ellen Page) is a snippy Republican, his son (Ashton Holmes) barely speaks to him, and Lawrence's adopted brother (Thomas Haden Church) is a moocher. Sarah Jessica Parker plays the doctor who treats Lawrence for a head injury – he hurt himself trying to reclaim his repossessed car – and quickly joins the fracas. Quaid and Church are funny, but too much of this film is not half as smart as it thinks it is. – P.R.