Amiable and innocuous, Up in the Air offers a disingenuously smooth flight over choppy waters and rugged terrain. Based on Walter Kirn’s 2001 novel, Jason Reitman’s follow-up to Juno has timeliness on its side, focused as it is on the plight of a man, Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), who fires other companies’ employees for a living. A terminator in a designer suit, Ryan spends the majority of his time travelling from one regional office building to another, an airport-hotel-airport existence – in which airline miles are acquired as status symbols – that he doesn’t lament but in fact adores. When not laying folks off, Ryan gives motivational conference speeches about “emptying your backpack” of material goods and personal relationships, which he argues are encumbering baggage. Reitman aims to position Ryan as an antihero who, through his relationship with an upstart colleague (Anna Kendrick) poised to make him obsolete via Internet-chat firing software, as well as his romance with a female version of himself (Vera Farmiga), evolves into a tragic figure who can’t quite escape his self-created isolationist prison. Yet despite a charmingly efficient turn by Clooney, who does corporate soullessness slightly better than he does epiphany-struck new man, Up in the Air is neither funny enough to be a straight comedy nor serious enough to be a telling drama about the human toll wrought by economic crisis. Instead, the film is merely a pseudo-redemption saga that’s pleasant enough in the moment but – despite numerous sequences of laid-off individuals railing in close-up at Ryan about their unjust fate – maintains considerable distance from actually plumbing the raw emotions of its central subject. During a trip back home for his sister’s (Melanie Lynskey) wedding, Ryan discovers that he has a soul. Yet the evolution of this alienated nomad is so play-it-safe ordinary that the material never works up more than a mild early-morning coffee buzz, its indie-folk music and whooshing montages of Ryan’s daily routines proving the superficial gloss Reitman employs to cover up the prickly, urgent issues lurking beneath his portrait of pitiless corporate pragmatism and charge card fetishism.