Alexander Payne‘s Downsizing, an intelligent, well-made film with a fascinating hook, is a dead puppy. It earned $768 per screen after opening yesterday in 2668 situations. This on top of the 52% and 63% respective scores from Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic plus a Cinemascore C grade. Deadline‘s Anthony D’Alessandro reports that under-25 viewers “hated it.”

I’m still advising HE readers to catch it this weekend. It’s not a typical “burn” but a sometimes brilliant disappointment. It delivers, in fact, a very good-to-excellent first act and a reasonably decent second act. But it commits hari-kiri in the third act, and in so doing destroys the initial good will that it had during the first…oh, 35 or 40 minutes. I’m truly sorry. My respect to Mr. Payne and his collaborators. Everybody drops the ball once in a while.

Here’s how I put it four and two thirds months ago (“Downsizing Deflates, Treads Water in Telluride”):

“Everyone knows the boilerplate. A futuristic setting and a dazzling, astonishing scientific discovery from Norwegian scientists that allows humans to reduce themselves to five inches tall. In so doing small volunteers live much more luxuriously and lavishly (their financial holdings are worth much more) while hundreds of thousands if not millions of carbon footprints are sharply reduced, and a far healthier environment results. Or so it seems at first.

“The story is about shlumpy physical therapist Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his shallow wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) deciding to get small and live lavishly inside a downsized tiny town. A controlled environment inside a plastic dome, safe from birds and cats and other predators.

“The truth is that Downsizing starts off like a house on fire (loving it! yes! so great! Christoph Waltz is a hoot!) and then it starts to droop around the 40-minute mark, and then it really droops and sags when the movie moves to Norway. (No, I’m not going to explain what means, just that the film goes there during the final act.)

“I wanted a whipsmart social satire mixed with a sci-fi adventure about the exotic thrill of suddenly (and somewhat depressingly) being five inches tall and all that would entail, but what I got after the first act ended was a somewhat mopey, down-spirited love story between Damon and a spirited, peg-legged, often-hard-to-understand Vietnamese woman (Hong Chau) living in hand-to-mouth fashion and coping with total methane ruination of the planet.

“I didn’t want a ‘love fuck’ or a ‘pity fuck’ (lines from the actual film) — I wanted a satirically funny excitement fuck, and that wasn’t what Payne was into when he wrote and directed.

“Honestly? I wanted a little Incredible Shrinking Man action. I wanted to see Tiny Damon dropped into a normal-sized human realm and get chased around by house cats and get pecked at and maybe carried off by birds. Payne totally ignores this. If I’d been his producer I would have said, “I know I sound like Samuel G. Arkoff but you’ve gotta do the cat and bird chase-arounds…you have to. It’ll make the movie that much catchier for the lowbrows.”