George Clooney is the member of his own personal Mile-High Club in the high-flying seriocomedy Up in the Air, which sneaks existentialism and sly humor into the bathroom for a wild, affecting romp.

In a role that the old Robert Downey Jr. would have given up drugs for, Clooney plays self-adoring corporate hatchet man Ryan Bingham, who gets around more than Tiger Woods and lives in a perpetual state of travel, lamenting the 50 or so days a year he has to spend at home in Omaha.

He’s an easy-going, pleasant lout who exploits his expense account, racks up frequent flier miles and rewards points and treats commitment like a terrifying hellbeast from which he meet flee.

You can tell where this is going, right? He’s going to meet the woman of his dreams, a fellow travel-freak played by Vera Farmiga, and the two will discover that what they’ve been running from is what they’ve craved all along. And on top of that comeuppance, Ryan will have to face his mortality and corporate obsolescence while traveling with a Type-A hatchling, (Anna Kendrick), whose youthful determination will make him realize that he’s just been spinning his wheels.

The genius of the movie from director Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking, Juno) is that it tricks you into thinking you know the itinerary before twisting to make you realize you’re not even the right terminal. The film catches a jet stream of thought-provoking whimsy and barrels through fatalist turbulence before landing in a rich catharsis.

The gurus say the movie is the odds-on favorite to bring home the best picture Oscar. If that comes to be, then for once the bald shiny guy will have chosen right.

Starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick and Jason Bateman. Written by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, based on the novel by Walter Kim. 109 minutes. Rated R.

Phil Villarreal’s humorous money-saving book, Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel, is available at bookstores and on Amazon.

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