Starring: Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Michelle Monaghan
Directed by: Geoff Moore and David Posamentier (debut)
Written by: Geoff Moore and David Posamentier (debut)

As he did with the independent comedy “The Way, Way Back” last year, actor Sam Rockwell’s performance keeps a pair of first-time directors from striking out with their debut film “Better Living Through Chemistry,” a dark comedy Rockwell owns despite the script’s numerous shortcomings.

In the film, Rockwell plays Doug Varney, a small-town pharmacist who is looked down upon by everyone in his life, including his athletic wife Kara (Michelle Monaghan) and father-in-law and former boss Walter (Ken Howard), who, after retiring, sells his pharmacy to Doug, but refuses to let him change the name. Doug, although he is an “authentically nice guy,” is weak and his life is unfulfilled. But when he meets a new and very attractive resident of his small town, Elizabeth Roberts (Olivia Wilde), he finds a new zest for life he never knew he had in him.

It’s unfortunate, however, the same zest can’t be found in the pages of first-time directors/writers Geoff Moore and David Posamentier’s screenplay. Doug’s nice-guy persona works well for Rockwell and it’s great to watch him flex his muscles when Doug finally breaks, but few, if any, of the underwritten secondary characters give him much support. Overall, it’s the tone of Moore and Posamentier’s film that can’t cement itself into one particular genre with much conviction. At times, the dark comedy elements seem like they want to push outside the limited sphere the co-writers have created, but the darker humor and on-the-edge characterizations never expand into much.

It takes Rockwell to craft his lead role into a likeable and believable character to make “Chemistry” really snap together. By the time that happens, Jane Fonda has made an on-camera cameo (added to her role as narrator of the film, which turns out to be unrewarding) and the picture just sort of dissolves from memory like Aspirin in water.

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