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Medium Boiled

“State of Play” mixes suspense and current-events lessons.

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Beware the thriller that blogs, for topicality in a thriller is often the spookiest bugaboo. In “State of Play,” starring Russell Crowe as a reporter on the hunt for big-government corruption, the current events are essentially divided. One concerns the military-industrial complex, which frequently fills a movie with shadowy figures and suspense, usually quite easily. The other part, its inclusion in the plot more mysterious than anything it actually lends to the story, is all about the devaluation of newspapers. Here we have something arguably important to our culture too, but, well, not so suspenseful.

For a while the lameness of the latter plot element simply gets in the way of the former, as Crowe's character Cal, a pot-bellied, long-haired, beat-up-Saab-driving veteran reporter for a paper much like The Washington Post, teams up with the paper's spunky young political blogger, Della (Rachel McAdams). The duo is investigating the death of a mysterious woman (Maria Thayer), her suspected killer (Michael Berresse) and her lover, a congressman and Cal's college friend (Ben Affleck) — all ensnared in the various tentacles of a sprawling, nefarious outsourcing company for the military called PointCorps.

There's also a PR man (read: enemy of the press!) for Washington elites (Jason Bateman, who somehow found a movie that requires Jason Bateman to play a kinky, pill-popping sleazeball), and all the usual suspects who have hindered veteran reporters throughout Hollywood's hardboiled history, including a cranky older editor (Helen Mirren), the feisty female sidekick and the local police, all of whom second-guess the battle-scarred, chili-cheeseburger-scarfing hero.

For a while it's mostly good old-fashioned cloak-and-dagger, kind of a like a more convoluted “Michael Clayton” (also written by Tony Gilroy), frequently sidetracked by discussions of blogs, new ownership demands and advertising revenue. But even if you suspect the shadowy private armed forces could be maneuvering for a future coup, or feel there's long been need of a movie to address decline in newspaper readership, you could be disappointed by “State of Play.” Sadly, it drops these cudgels after beating us about the head with them for nearly two hours, leaving the conclusion in the mind of a mere psychopath. Part of the audience will be disappointed. The rest might simply wake up. (PG-13) 118 min. HHIII S

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