First-time director Liev Schreiber probably couldn't have picked a more difficult book to adapt than Jonathan Safran Foer's eccentric first novel. Cutting out most of the book's flashbacks and folk tales, Schreiber sticks to the main, linear narrative where a young man by the name of, ahem, Jonathan Safran Foer (Elijah Wood), travels to the Ukraine to track down Trachimbrod, the pre-World War II village where his grandfather was born. His tour guide there is Alex (Eugene Hutz), a hipster doofus who speaks in broken English not far off from the "wild and crazy guy" character Steve Martin used to play in his SNL days. Also joining them is Alex's crusty grandfather, who thinks he's blind, so he has a seeing eye-dog (or "officious seeing-eye bitch") named Sammy Davis Junior, Jr.

As a likable piece of exceedingly quirky whimsy, you can already tell that this works much better on the page than it ever could onscreen. And Schreiber stumbles somewhat in the film's first half, with some of the jokes falling flat and other scenes lacking the punch and finesse a skilled director could give them. Fortunately, like the book, the film takes a serious turn in its second half and is much better for it. Some may balk at the major change made with the grandfather character, and as a buttoned-up "collector" of all ephemera, Wood sometimes seems barely there. But the energetic, oddly engaging Hutz (leader of the NYC-based gypsy-rock combo Gogol Bordello, also on the soundtrack) is an inspired casting choice, lending Alex enough depth to make him more than a caricature. When the troupe finally reaches the mysterious, seemingly unattainable Trachimbrod, you feel like you're in a completely different film--a superior one. (2.5/5)