Something goes wrong when David Norris boards the M6 bus. He is supposed to be on the next one, the one bound for the U.S. Senate and White House.

Foiling the fates, Norris (Matt Damon) catches the earlier transport. There, he reconnects with Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), a free-spirited modern dancer. This cleft-chinned flirt makes the aspiring pol start musing about romantic destinations rather than his political destiny. This demands a correction, a tweak, really, from the fedora-hatted boys at the adjustment bureau.

Adapted from a 1954 short story ("Adjustment Team") by sci-fi provocateur Philip K. Dick, The Adjustment Bureau is a lively premise turned into an inert and uninsistent film by screenwriter and rookie director George Nolfi.

Dick imagined the fates as bureaucrats working for an agency not unlike the FBI, guys unnerved by any deviation from plan.

Nolfi envisions them as dress extras from Mad Men (John Slattery is among them, as are Terence Stamp and Anthony Mackie), men behind the curtain who get humans to hit their marks, say their lines, and adhere to the plan. By which to say: The Adjustment bureaucrats prevent humans from exercising free will.

Nolfi, who wrote the screenplays for The Bourne Ultimatum and Ocean's Twelve (both Damon vehicles), penned this one with the star in mind. The tone of the film veers wildly from paranoia to predestination, making it an unsuccessful marriage of The Manchurian Candidate with It's a Wonderful Life.

Because Norris gets on the early bus, he arrives at work early and sees the boys from the Bureau (they are all men) "readjusting" his colleagues. They threaten to "reset" Norris - purge his memories - if he speaks to anyone about what he saw. Since their tools are vacuum cleaners rather than scalpels, the sense of menace is relatively low.

There is some life in John Toll's cinematography of Manhattan in springtime, which makes a strong contrast with the leached-of-color Adjustment Bureau itself. And there is vitality in Blunt's minxlike performance. But uncharacteristically, Damon is disengaged. Where there should be tension, instead there is slack.

Long stretches of this film are of Damon and Blunt running down streets, looking over their shoulders. They're eluding bureaucrats whose magic fedoras enable them to travel with dispatch. They can open a door in a Wall Street high-rise and it communicates to a Midtown greasy spoon.

The Adjustment Bureau is a movie where the action scenes feel like filler, the romantic leads have little magnetism, and, before long, its metaphysical underpinnings fall to pieces.EndText

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl, at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/.