“The Best and the Brightest” might have had some real teeth -- and some real smarts -- in the hands of a savvy satirist such as Christopher Guest. Unfortunately, writer-director Josh Shelov’s sendup of the Manhattan private school culture flies off its comic rails after an engaging start, never to land back on solid ground.
Shelov’s glib, overly crass script, co-written by Michael Jaeger, finds cautious computer programmer Jeff (Neil Patrick Harris), his more adventurous wife, Sam (Bonnie Somerville), and their 5-year-old daughter, Beatrice (Amelia Talbot), moving from Delaware to the Big Apple for reasons that seem, frankly, less than urgent. Once there, however, Jeff and Sam learn an elite kindergarten slot for Beatrice is nonexistent, so a steamrollering admissions consultant (a nimble Amy Sedaris) is employed and it’s down the rabbit hole.
Whatever-it-takes trickery, a dirty-poetry ruse, a swingers’ club foray and other unsavory bits ensue in service of wedging Beatrice into the tony Coventry Day School, but it all feels desperate and wildly off-message, even for a spoof.
The deft cast, which also includes Jenna Stern as Coventry’s uptight headmistress and Christopher McDonald and Kate Mulgrew as uniquely married, startlingly un-PC school board members gamely navigate the dubious material, though a low-key Harris makes us long for his usual exuberance.
“The Best and the Brightest.” MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, sexual content and some nudity. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. At Laemmle’s Sunset 5, West Hollywood.