by Bill Chambers Jason Reitman's Up in the Air calls inveterate bachelor George Clooney to the stand to defend his enviable lifestyle to the civilized world. Alas, since this is mainstream Hollywood, where no undomesticated man goes unpunished, the jury's rigged. But first, the rest of it. Clooney's thinly-veiled alter ego, Ryan Bingham is a corporate hatchet-man-for-hire who loves travelling and all the freedom from responsibility that implies. He's never been married, has no kids, and with business booming (thanks to our current economic crisis), it looks like he's not that far off from achieving his (only) long-term goal of getting enough miles under him to earn executive privileges from his airline. Then Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a new hire at Bingham's company eager to impress, proposes a revolutionary idea--fire people over the Internet using iChat--that would effectively bring an end to Ryan's jet-setting. Assigned to show Natalie the ropes on the road trip that follows, Ryan tries to prove to her the value of terminating someone's employment in person, partly out of self-preservation but also because he respects the sensitive nature of his work. (He may be commitment-phobic and a bit of a hustler, but he's no sadist.) The story's Nebraskan starting point and wedding-bound trajectory, plus the use of Ryan's white-trash roots as a self-evident punchline, made me wonder how Up in the Air escaped becoming an Alexander Payne movie, and truth be told the Clooney character could've used Payne's penchant for locating his protagonists' Achilles heels: Ryan is so free of neuroses that his inevitable comeuppance--er, epiphany--feels moralistic, if not outright cruel. Nevertheless, all isn't lost with the increasingly slick Reitman, who has the good sense to not slather every emotional beat with music and really seems to like his actresses. Vera Farmiga typically smoulders as Ryan's female counterpart ("Think of me as yourself with a vagina"), though it's the singular Kendrick who walks away with the movie--quite literally, as Natalie's premature departure from the narrative sends Up in the Air into a tailspin, pun intended.