Begin Again, like all lackluster Mark Ruffalo pictures, improves if you pretend his character is secretly Bruce Banner, barely holding back a rampage. Ruffalo stars as one of those movie guys who has it all but loses it in the first 15 minutes so that he can learn life lessons. He gets fired, he's separated from his wife, and his vintage Jaguar does what vintage Jaguars do: It craps out, giving him the chance to pound the wheel and collapse in an effective (but familiar) static shot.
Ruffalo plays Dan, a record label A&R rep. At an open mic night he's shaken with a revelation: a plaintive ditty sung by Gretta (Keira Knightley). The scene is writer-director John Carney's strongest. As Knightley strums into the void, accompanied only by her acoustic guitar, Ruffalo's Dan imagines the drums kicking in and a string section sawing away. Here's a desperate drunk, dreaming big, and Ruffalo and the movie sell it -- for a scene.
From there, despite sturdy performances, Carney's film never again connects to urgent human feeling. That might not be a surprise, considering this is a movie about a down-on-his-luck millionaire willing to bet that Keira Knightley might be a star. The story collapses into a curiously tension-free New York musical. Dan's old label isn't interested in signing her, so Dan and Gretta hit on a plan just crazy enough to work in montage: record an album live outside in the city, each song captured in alleys, on rooftops, or -- seriously? -- the platform of the Wall Street subway station. They do. Then they're happy. Then the movie ends.