Up in the AirGreen lightIn Up in the Air Hollywood’s superlative smooth-as-silk lady killer, George Clooney, plays Ryan Bingham, a mealy-mouthed “termination facilitator” who jets from city to city informing hard-luck employees that their services are no longer wanted. In short, he travels across America firing people for a living. And he loves it.

Bingham meets Alex (Vera Farmiga), a woman with whom he shares a fetish for frequent flyer points. “Fetish” is not code for “fondness.” Mileage, well, it turns them on. And so these junkie jetsetters find in each other kindred ground-averse spirits.

Our plane-prone protag spends so much time in the air that he considers airports his true home. Crap sushi, miniature bottles of grog, baggage checking and security checkpoints are warm reminders that he is where he belongs.

But all this is set to change when a fiesty young upstart, Natalie (Anna Kendrick) convinces the boss (Jason Bateman) to ditch face-to-face exit interviews in favour of firing people via video calls. Fearing that his flighty universe is about to come crashing to the ground, Bingham takes Natalie for a cross-country firing spree so she can get a taste of the trade. Lo and behold, some life lessons are in store for both of them – and they reach a little deeper than how to open those tiny, pesky bags of airline peanuts.

Guided by the dab hand of director Jason Reitman (grandson of Ghostbuster’s helmer Ivan Reitman) who made the over-rated Juno and the acerbically satirical Thank You For Smoking, Up in the Air is a black humoured, difficult to place kinda-but-not-really-rom-com that breaks a bunch of the genre’s golden rules and scores some serious kudos for not pulling any punches.

George Clooney’s effortless charm, as always stopping just shy of interminable smugness, is put to good use even though he’s played this character before. Cocumber-cool Clooney’s performance in Up in the Air is a lot like his Oscar-nominated turn in Michael Clayton, in which he plays a calm-under-fire hotshot who, professionally embroiled in a less than admirable line of work, is challenged to reassess his conscience. But ignore the Xerox and Clooney’s performance resonates. He infuses Bingham with steely-minded aplomb, and behind the slick grin lies an undercurrent of realism and seemingly spontaneous unpredictability. You’re never sure what Bingham will do next. Even as he edges towards a cleaner grasp of moral values, things aren’t precisely what they seem.

Reitman periodically challenges the audience to reassess the movie unfolding in front of them. Is this a rom-com dressed up as a corporate satire? Or a corporate satire dressed up as a morality fable?

Despite a slightly unsatisfying final act, in which a bunch of events appear to have been tacked onto the master storyline, Up in the Air is a sharply observed, entertaining and genuinely unpredictable film. Whenever you think you’ve got the story pegged Reitman scoots down a different runway, leaving passengers re-evaluating their itineries and double-checking their boarding passes.

Up in the Air’s Australian theatrical release date: January 14, 2010.