Perhaps the cleverest Hollywood movie of its generation, "Adaptation" is a loose adaptation of Susan Orlean's novelistic non-fiction book "The Orchid Thief". It is also a unique exercise in autobiographical fantasy on the part of screenwriter Charles Kaufman (who shares credit with his fictional brother) and a worthy follow-up to director Spike Jonze's first Kaufman-scripted movie "Being John Malkovich". Opening on the set of "Being John Malkovich", with the writer (played by an intense Nicolas Cage) ordered out of the way by a minion, "Adaptation." proceeds to follow more strands than spaghetti.
The neurotic Kaufman wins the job of turning Orlean's book into a script and has trouble getting a handle on it, while his more upbeat brother (also Cage) takes a Robert McKee scriptwriting seminar and cranks out a serial killer screenplay that attracts a major buzz. In flashbacks, Orlean (Meryl Streep) works on a "New Yorker" article and then a book about "orchid thief" John Laroche (Chris Cooper), a toothless Sam Shepard figure who heads a crew of Seminoles who poach rare flowers ostensibly in order to preserve them from extinction, encouraging the Darwinian process of adaptation essential to evolution. Kaufman ends up taking a seminar with McKee (Brian Cox, hilarious) and the film changes (or adapts) into a bizarre Hollywood thriller with drugs manufactured from flowers, a shoot-out between the writers and the subjects in the Florida everglades and a defiant climactic use of a plot device ("deus ex machina") and narrative strategy (voice-over) McKee has ordered Kaufman not to use.
So dazzling that it defuses the argument that the hero genuinely has no idea what to do with his material, this film examines the rules of filmmaking and breaks them, shoots off in all directions (a brief history of life on earth sped up) but is held together by performance and direction, and will give the viewer enough material for a week's worth of debates and arguments afterwards. --"Kim Newman"