If there’s one criticism of "St. Vincent," the dark comedy in which a timid 12-year-old boy (Jaeden Lieberher) strikes up an odd friendship with the curmudgeonly misanthrope (Bill Murray) who lives next door, it’s that anyone who’s ever seen a movie has a pretty good idea where it’s going to end up.

If there’s one criticism of "St. Vincent," the dark comedy in which a timid 12-year-old boy (Jaeden Lieberher) strikes up an odd friendship with the curmudgeonly misanthrope (Bill Murray) who lives next door, it’s that anyone who’s ever seen a movie has a pretty good idea where it’s going to end up.


Spoiler alert: That misanthrope eventually will prove to be not so hateful after all.


But as a filmmaker, what else can you have the old guy do besides transform? Sell the kid to Boko Haram?


Single mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) has left her philandering husband and moved with her son, Oliver (Lieberher), to Brooklyn. And not one of those hipster enclaves. It’s a strictly blue-collar neighborhood where Vincent (Murray) greets them, hungover with an open head wound, by ranting, raving and cursing about the tree limb their moving truck knocked down.


He also tries to get them to pay for the fence he drove over in a stupor the night before.


"Is that our new neighbor?" Oliver asks his mom.


"Yep."


"It’s gonna be a long life."


During gym class on his first day at Catholic school, which Oliver attends despite being Jewish (or at least thinking he’s Jewish), a bully steals his clothes, and the accompanying keys, wallet and phone. Locked out of his house while Maggie’s at work, he warily approaches Vincent and asks if he can come inside to call his mother.


With no place else to go, Oliver spends the rest of the day there, and thus, a business transaction is born. As Vincent has nothing better to do, and is deeply in debt to some nefarious types, he offers to baby-sit the kid. Before long, Vincent is taking Oliver to bars and the horse track, sharing the simple joys of watching Abbott and Costello and fleeing from a bookie, and introducing his young charge as "11 bucks an hour."


He also introduces Oliver to the closest resemblance he has to family: Daka (Naomi Watts), the very pregnant Russian stripper/prostitute with whom he has a standing weekly appointment.


Written and directed by first-timer Theodore Melfi, "St. Vincent" is an actors’ showcase.


It’s also the Melissa McCarthy movie certain audiences have been waiting for. Maggie is a sweet-natured but overworked mom who’s recognizably human. Through her, McCarthy delivers solid laughs without relying on garish makeup or even once threatening to shove anything inside, or rip anything out of, anyone.


Her "Bridesmaids" co-star Chris O’Dowd is delightful as Brother Geraghty, the teacher in charge of Oliver’s class project, recognizing the saints among us, that lends the movie its title.


And although most actors his age are terrible, Lieberher is convincingly quirky as Oliver without it seeming forced.


But you buy a ticket for "St. Vincent" because of Murray, who’s predictably terrific as the cantankerous Vincent. His performance is pure, unadulterated Murray, whether he’s dancing with free-spirited, loose-limbed joy or riffing out non sequiturs. It’s a virtuoso turn, and he makes it all seem effortless.


Even something as simple as Vincent’s singing along to Bob Dylan’s "Shelter From the Storm" during the closing credits while he waters a dead plant and his dirt patch becomes mesmerizing.


Legendarily choosy, Murray is less likely to show up on the big screen than in a YouTube video after crashing a stranger’s wedding. Aside from his collaborations with directors Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch, he barely acts anymore. Even when he does, it’s rarely with this sort of free-wheeling abandon.


"St. Vincent" gets a little saccharine at times, and a few plot developments make it feel as though it were funded by Citizens United to Win Bill Murray an Oscar. But there are far less worthy causes out there.


And, yeah, you can see the ending coming from a mile away.


But using that to gripe about a movie as masterfully entertaining as "St. Vincent" is like turning up your nose at a nice juicy porterhouse — or, for you vegans out there, a delicious slab of tofu — just because you know it will eventually end up circling your plumbing.


"St. Vincent" is all about the voyage, not the destination.


— Christopher Lawrence is an entertainment writer at the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at clawrence@reviewjournal.com