There is one reason and one reason alone to see ‘St. Vincent’, and that’s Bill Murray working his cantankerous charms. As usual, that’s just enough to make the whole wonky ride worthwhile. This is far from the finest late career effort out of the star, but Murray at half steam is still better than most comedic actors operating at full power.
Murray plays the titular Vincent, a burned-out, bitter, alcoholic, gambling sad-sack whose only real “friends” are a housecat, a pregnant prostitute and a bunch of debt collectors. That all changes when a sad single mom (Melissa McCarthy) with a precocious kid (Jaeden Lieberher) moves in next door. McCarthy doesn’t have much time on her hands and Murray is hopelessly broke, so a babysitting arrangement is made. In the ‘Bad Santa’ mold (in fact, the Vincent role feels like it was probably written for Billy Bob Thornton), Murray becomes a bad influence best friend for the lost kid. He teaches him to fight, gamble, make friends and become a strong individual. At this point, the flick is charmingly conventional yet elevated by Murray’s lovable a-hole shtick. Then things get a little sticky when a secret wife, a strength-building stroke, a custody battle and a Catholic school project about a local saint all come into play.
Yes, the last act of ‘St. Vincent’ takes four melodramatic third act dramedy twists and piles them on top of each other. It’s a weepy overload from first time writer/director Theodore Melfi that almost derails the entire movie. Thankfully, that’s an “almost” and not a promise. Shoving Bill Murray into sentimental scenes has a way of diluting the cheese just enough to avoid indigestion. It also helps that Melfi gets some comedic ringers like Chris O’Dowd as an awkward priest and, oddly, Naomi Watts, who gets more mileage than anyone could have predicted out of a pretty placid Russian prostitute role. (McCarthy on the other hand is on straight woman duties.)
Ultimately, there’s nothing in ‘St. Vincent’ that you haven’t seen a million times before in better movies. (‘Bad News Bears’ probably still ranks at the top of that list.) The only change this time is that it’s Bill Murray and, even then, he kind of did it before in ‘Meatballs’ and ‘Rushmore’. As Murray noted himself after the film’s premiere, “If we could do it without being schmaltzy, I thought we’d really have something. I think we almost did it.” Well said, Bill. Close, but not quite. Still plenty of Bill Murray though, so it ain’t bad.