Who would have thought Brad Pitt, even aged artificially, could bear a resemblance to Yoda?
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (* * * out of four) is worth seeing just for the superb prosthetic makeup and seamless computer-generated effects in which Pitt's head is digitally imposed onto older bodies. The film, ambitious if flawed, also is lyrical and melancholy as it tells the story of a man aging backward.
But the tale, though laudably imaginative, is overlong and not as emotionally involving as it could be. David Fincher, one of the best contemporary directors, has made a notable departure from such darker fare as "Zodiac" and "Fight Club."
The influence of screenwriter Eric Roth is perhaps even stronger than Fincher's capable direction. Roth wrote 1994's "Forrest Gump," and "Button" has notable similarities.
Benjamin is a passive and reactive character, and Pitt is appropriately understated. The long romance between Button and Daisy is less convincing; we never get a full sense of who she is.
The film is at its best when spinning fantastic yarns of Benjamin's bizarre, long life. Afflicted with a rare malady, he is born elderly. His father (Jason Flemying) finds the wizened infant repulsive and abandons him on a doorstep.
Benjamin is raised by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), the proprietor of an old folks' home where he stands out with his childish antics. When a little girl named Daisy (Elle Fanning) visits her grandmother, a friendship is born.
Benjamin leaves home at 17 (looking like 60), goes off to sail the world and has his first love affair when he is seduced by a married woman (Tilda Swinton). Soon he sheds his wrinkles and emerges in familiar handsome form. He and Daisy (now played by Cate Blanchett) meet again, closer in age, and their romance starts and sputters.
The backward-aging can be distracting. Trying to determine Benjamin's approximate age at various intervals can take you out of the film.
Button is a cinematic curiosity. Set in a visually stunning realm of heightened reality, it is at times symbolic and enigmatic, other times baroque and convoluted, and also folksy and predictable.
Though it doesn't always work as a parable about life, Button is never dull, and the conclusion is graceful and poignant. (Rated PG-13 for brief war violence, sexual content, language and smoking. Running time: 2 hours, 46 minutes. Opened Thursday nationwide.)