George Clooney and Matt Damon are cool guys, but in recent films they leave the glamorous, dangerous worlds of “Ocean’s 11” and “The Bourne Ultimatum” far behind. In “Up in the Air” and “The Informant!,” both actors play guys who, in the end, turn out to be schmucks.

George Clooney and Matt Damon are cool guys, but in recent films they leave the glamorous, dangerous worlds of “Ocean’s 11” and “The Bourne Ultimatum” far behind. In “Up in the Air” and “The Informant!,” both actors play guys who, in the end, turn out to be schmucks.

As “Up in the Air” starts, Clooney is (almost literally) on top of the world. He makes his living firing employees whose bosses are too gutless to do the job, and in our current economy, Clooney’s line of work is a growth industry. Because he’s constantly on the road, Clooney has virtually no home (except an apartment he barely sees) and instead has become a world-class frequent flier, logging millions of miles and aiming for the airline’s top prize: a coveted gold card and a sit-down with its top pilot.

Naturally, this character is headed for a big fall, and it comes in the form of two women. The first is Alex (Vera Farmiga), a fellow flier who meets with him in a series of hotels and is just as eager to avoid a relationship as he is. The second is Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a young go-getter who has developed a way to fire people online, eliminating the need for travel — and Clooney’s way of life.

It’s no surprise that all three leads got Oscar nominations, but the rest of the cast is equally strong, with solid work from Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons, Zach Galifianakis, Sam Elliot, Melanie Lynskey and several actual fired employees, apparently playing movie versions of themselves. But in the end, this is Clooney’s show, and he makes the most of it. He contrasts his carefree glamour with the realization that, after a lifetime of avoiding connections, he’s finally, frustratingly alone.

In “The Informant!,” Damon is even more pathetic. He plays Mark Whitacre — a real guy, believe it or not — who becomes the worst whistle-blower in the history of corporate crime. A vice president at food giant Archer Daniels Midland, he alerts the FBI to a massive price-fixing scheme, then drives them crazy by lying, backtracking and fancying himself to be Agent 0014 (because he’s “twice as good as James Bond”). With extra pounds on his “Bourne” frame, a dated haircut and silly mustache, Damon has never been this goofy — and it works perfectly.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, “The Informant!” is a comedy/drama where the comedy and drama switch places constantly. Though Damon is ridiculous, he’s surrounded by a circle of dead-serious government guys played mostly by big-name comedians. That gives the film an off-kilter vibe that’s hard to describe, but easy to watch. I was confused and mystified throughout “The Informant!,” but I was sure never bored.

Contact Will at wpfeifer@rrstar.com or 815-987-1244. Read his blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/movie man/.

FIRE AT WILL
Shedding light on a TV movie
Millisa Jaycox of Rockford asks about a movie that’s been “nagging (her) memory for about 20 years.” It was about a young girl from Earth who lived on a planet where it constantly rained. The children couldn’t go outside and instead had to stand in front of a special box to get enough sunlight.

Millisa, I’m pretty sure that memory is of “All Summer in a Day,” a 1982 TV program based on a short story by Ray Bradbury. It starred Reesa Mallen as Margot, the little girl from Earth. It’s not on DVD or videotape, but it is on You Tube. Go to http://tinyurl.com/y9pe2xg for part 1 and http://tinyurl.com/yd22asb for part 2.

Send movie questions to wpfeifer@rrstar.com. Put “Fire at Will” in the subject line. Include full name, city and daytime phone number (which isn’t for publication).

FROM THE VAULT
Four more from George and Matt
Between them, George Clooney and Matt Damon have pretty impressive resumes, and that’s not counting the “Ocean’s” movies they’ve made together. Here are a few of their films:

“Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” (2000): Clooney directed and co-stars in this mind-bending movie about game show impresario (and CIA assassin) Chuck Barris. As director, he shows he learned something from working with Steven Soderbergh and the Coens, and as an actor, he conveys menace and despair. It’s one of my favorites — and Matt Damon has a cameo.

“Courage Under Fire” (1996): Damon made an early impression in this Gulf War drama starring Denzel Washington and Meg Ryan. Those two are definitely the stars, but Damon is memorable as a shattered young soldier.

“Batman and Robin” (1997): Before he became a beloved movie star, Clooney starred in this, one of the worst movies ever made. It’s not his fault — it’s director Joel Schumacher’s — but Clooney acts awkward and embarrassed in the Bat-suit, probably because it has rubber nipples on the chest.

“Stuck on You” (2003): In what might be his oddest movie role, Damon stars with Greg Kinnear as conjoined twins. Directed by the Farrelly brothers (“There’s Something About Mary”), the movie straddles the line between tasteless and touching, but Damon and Kinnear are consistently funny.
— Will Pfeifer

Make room in your collection
Some new DVDs out Tuesday
“Astro Boy”: Astro Boy — aka “Mighty Atom” in his native Japan — has been around for decades and starred in hundreds of comic books and cartoons. That didn’t help this computer-animated movie at the box office, though, and it died a quick death in theaters.

“Brief Interviews with Hideous Men”: John Krasinski, best known as Jim on “The Office,” directs and acts in this adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s book. The movie didn’t get very good reviews, but the strong cast also includes Julianne Nicholson (of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”), Timothy Hutton, Christopher Meloni and Will Forte.

“Clash of the Gods: The Complete Season 1”: Just in case you can’t wait for the “Clash of the Titans” remake coming to theaters, here’s a suspiciously similarly titled History Channel series that explores Greek mythology.

“Did You Hear About the Morgans?”: Did you hear about the movie starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant as a big-city couple forced to live in the country? Well, it didn’t make any money in theaters, so here it is on DVD.

“Fourth Kind”: The makers of this movie tried to blur the line between fiction and reality, but all they managed to do was blur the line between their movie and any interest on the part of the audience.

“Mystery Science Theater 3000: XVII”: This set includes the very first episode, “The Crawling Eye,” plus “MST3K” mockeries of “The Beatniks,” “The Final Sacrifice” and “The Blood Waters of Dr. Z.”

“The Princess and the Frog”: Disney’s latest feature film returns to the studio’s roots of hand-drawn (and not computerized) animation. It’s a fun, colorful story that puts a semi-modern spin on the traditional princess story.

And CDs
The White Stripes, “Under Great White Northern Lights”: This boxed set documents the rock duo’s tour of Canada and includes live versions of many of their most popular songs.

Various Artists, “Bayou Boogie: Toe Tappin’ Tunes Inspired By The Princess & the Frog”: If the actual soundtrack for “The Princess & the Frog” didn’t satisfy your craving for Cajun tunes, this should do the trick.

Drive-By Truckers, “The Big To-Do”: Patterson Hood of the Truckers describes this major-label debut as “Very melodic and more rocking than anything we’ve done since disc 2 of ‘Southern Rock Opera.’ ”

Graham Parker, “Imaginary Television”: For this album, Parker created his own concepts for TV shows, then recorded theme songs to go along with them. Cuts include “Weather Report,” “Broken Skin” and “You’re Not Always Where You Think You Are.”

— Will Pfeifer

Sources: dvdtalk.com, tophitsonline.com