A better book or a better movie? In the case of Liev Schreiber's directorial debut, "Everything Is Illuminated" (from the best-selling novel by Jonathan Safran Foer), the answer is both: The film more than faithfully honors the trippy, literary appeal of Foer's tale of a young New Yorker's journey to deepest Ukraine to "collect" objects or information about the shtetl where his grandfather lived before the Holocaust.

As "Jonathan Safran Foer" (Foer's fictional rendering of himself), Elijah Wood is mostly flat. But just as the book was memorably saved by the malapropped English narration of the Odessan guide hired by faux-Foer to drive him to the rural lands, the movie is also more than illuminated by Eugene Hutz's comically endearing portrayal of Alexander Perchov -- a nightclubbin' mack daddy wannabe who can't for the life of him figure out why Foer would come from babe-laden New York to ride around looking for pieces of a forgotten town. Alex's sight-impaired grandfather comes along, as does the family mutt, Sammy Davis Jr. Jr.

When this mismatched party eventually finds the land where the shtetl stood, Schreiber (who also wrote the screenplay) and his cast can't help but take the book's original use of coincidental, emotional symmetry a notch too far; in its strict adherence to literary brilliance, "Everything Is Illuminated" overexposes itself as too neat, too touching, too precious by a stone's throw.

-- Hank Stuever