Bruce Bermelin, Miramax Films
College professor Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) flirts with Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker) in the film "Smart People."
SMART PEOPLE — ** 1/2 — Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church; rated R (profanity, drugs, vulgarity, brief sex, brief partial nudity, slurs, violence)

Ironically, "Smart People" has a trait in common with a few of its characters. It's a little smug and condescending toward other people — particularly toward the audience.

You almost get the impression that the filmmakers are trying to talk down to moviegoers. For one thing, the movie seems like it's a little too impressed with its quippy dialogue and character quirks.

As a result, this inconsistent but sporadically entertaining comedy-drama does feel a little clinical and icy, though eventually it does warm up a bit. The good cast certainly helps.

The film's title refers to the well-educated members of the Wetherhold family. The patriarch is Lawrence (Dennis Quaid), a snooty college professor who's recovering from a head injury that he suffered during a fall.

As a result, Lawrence been prohibited from driving, which brings his wayward, adoptive brother, Chuck (Thomas Haden Church), back into his life. Chuck is supposed to drive Lawrence wherever he needs to go.

Widower Lawrence also has begun seeing Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker), the doctor who initially treated him.

His possessive daughter, Vanessa (Ellen Page), isn't too thrilled about that connection. And the studious, mature-for-her-age teen is not exactly pleased to be sharing a house with the immature Chuck, who tempts her with pot and alcohol.

The one really likable person here is Church's amusing man-child, who's at least conscientious about the way he treats other people. Page is simply offering up a slight variation on the acid-tongued character she played in the Oscar-nominated "Juno."

And Quaid does have some chemistry problems with Parker. Frankly, we'd rather see him with Christine Lahti, who shows up all-too-briefly as one of Lawrence's colleagues.

Still, first-time director Noam Murro and screenwriter Mark Poirier are smart enough not to wrap up everything with a neat bow. The film ends a bit messily, as it should.

"Smart People" is rated R for some strong sexual language (profanity, slang and other suggestive references), drug content and references (pharmaceuticals and marijuana), a brief sex scene (implied), brief partial male nudity, derogatory slurs, and brief violence (a violent tumble). Running time: 95 minutes.

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