Ben Affleck’s moderately entertaining Argo is the trendy pick to walk off with a Best Picture award at tonight’s Oscars, and if it does, it will be a bigger con than the great escape his movie depicts.

Argo, loosely based on a joint effort between Canada and the CIA to smuggle six Americans out of Tehran in 1980, is a perfectly serviceable blend of comedy and suspense – but no more than that.  The movie doesn’t come to life until its third act, when Affleck, as real-life agent Tony Mendez, has some tense moments shepherding his American charges (posing as filmmakers in Iran to scout locations) through Tehran’s hostile airport security.

Prior to that, we sit through 90 minutes of mostly yawn-inducing exposition in which CIA spooks make plans and Hollywood players (Alan Arkin and John Goodman) crack jokes.  Don’t make the mistake that I did, expecting this film to be a comic thriller, with the emphasis on “comic”; for the most part, Argo takes itself oh-so seriously, with Arkin and Goodman on hand, sporadically, to contribute a few wisecracks.

It’s no spoiler to reveal that big Ben and the Americans win the day.  I won’t carp about the unlikely, nick-of-time developments (pick up the phone! pick up the phone!) that add to the suspense, because that’s what thrillers do.  And I also won’t complain about the climactic chase scene, which reportedly has no basis in reality, because hey, that’s also what thrillers do.

But the epilogue is one of those absurd “everybody stand up and clap” clichés that Hollywood loves to stage – even though, in this case, nobody actually claps.  (Wait, I double-checked; yes, they do.)  For no apparent reason, Ben’s estranged wife takes him back, and Ben gets a macho backslap from the boss.  God forbid they also give him an Oscar.              Grade:  B




Director:  Ben Affleck   Cast:  Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham   Release:  2012




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