By Chris Nashawaty
October 16, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT
Atsushi Nishijima

The only thing that’s ever been predictable about Bill Murray is his unpredictability. Thirty-five years into his big-screen career, there still doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to the roles he takes. On his planet, it makes just as much sense to play FDR as it does Garfield (the cat, not the president). You could say that Murray’s screw-it-all philosophy has been the key to his appeal. He never seems to be taking anything too seriously and rarely asks us to either.

Maybe that’s why I had a hard time fully buying into his new lump-in-the-throat comedy, St. Vincent. It’s a film that asks us to swallow Hollywood’s holy fool as a feel-good saint (albeit a chain-smoking, Scotch-swilling one). Murray plays Vincent McKenna, a crotchety, gone-to-seed Brooklyn barfly whose bad luck knows no limits. Every horse he bets on comes up lame, his Russian stripper girlfriend (Naomi Watts) is pregnant and still working the pole due to his lack of funds, and, as icing, his new neighbors — single mom Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her adorable, Culkin-esque son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) — back into a tree and crush his wood-paneled convertible while moving in. His hostility toward them eases up when he reluctantly agrees to look after the boy while Maggie’s at work. It’s not out of kindness. He demands $12 an hour and gets an unwitting stooge to mow his sad excuse for a lawn in the bargain. We’ve all seen this sort of irresponsible crank before. Think Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa, John Candy in Uncle Buck, or Walter Matthau in The Bad News Bears — the poor role model with the soft, chewy center. Murray, of course, can play a redeemable misanthrope with one hand tied behind his back. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what he has to do here because writer-director Theodore Melfi reins in his leading man with a script that doesn’t know when to stop troweling on the sap. As good as Murray is, it’s obvious that Vincent will become a pussycat who teaches the picked-on, pint-size Oliver life lessons. His turnaround’s never in doubt. I’ll admit that I got choked up at the end. I just wish it didn’t feel like it was pulled out of me like a forced confession. B