The new Paul Giamatti vehicle has the "Sideways" star at his sad-sack best. As a troubled actor with the unlikely name of "Paul Giamatti," he goes to a bizarre psychiatric service, which relieves patients of their problematic souls, which are stored for safekeeping in a vault of safe deposit boxes. It is at this point that we discover Paul's soul resembles a chickpea. This so upsets him that he shakes his chickpea essence from its clear plastic canister, sending him and company head Dr. Flintstein (David Strathairan) crawling on the floor in desperate search for the all-important, but diminutive key to Giamatti immortality.
Written and directed by newcomer Sophie Barthes, "Cold Souls" oozes low-key, off-beat comedy as suited to Paul Giamatti as slapstick is to Jerry Lewis. Here is humor that amuses, while making you think.
What triggers Paul's close encounter with soul storage is his struggle to interpret the character of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, whom he is portraying in rehearsal for a status stage production. Voicing the frustrations of the uncle and himself, Giamatti moans, "If I could only live what's left in a different way," before storming angrily off the stage.
His angst results in soulless Paul doing some empty acting and destroying his sex life, much to the dismay of his theater director (Michael Tucker) and wife Claire (Emily Watson), respectively. Panicked, Paul wants his soul back.
Too late. Smuggled on the black market, it is now inside a beautiful Russian soap opera actress, Sveta (Katheryn Winnick). Paul now becomes involved with pretty soul-trafficking "mule" Nina (Dina Korzun) on an adventure to St. Petersburg in an effort to reclaim and literally revive his spirit. However, he finds that he has more than a ghost of a chance getting it back. Sveta learns that she was conned: She does not have the soul of Al Pacino as she was told and is greatly disappointed. Is this not the perfect Paul Giamatti putdown?