'A Good Year' Equals a Bad 118 Minutes For Crowe

By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 10, 2006

"Under the Tuscan Son of Sideways" is one way to sum up "A Good Year," which is not a very good movie.

Ridley Scott's lackluster adaptation of the Peter Mayle novel stars a decidedly pinched-looking Russell Crowe as Max Skinner, a London broker who inherits a gorgeous house in the south of France.

It's a measure of Max's impoverished spirit that he greets this as bad news.

When he's forced to stay at the house -- which includes a vineyard -- Max meets the usual bevy of eccentric locals, a lissome waitress and a beautiful American girl who may or may not be his cousin. Would it shock anyone to learn that, after immersing himself in wine, women and the modest but authentic pleasures of country life, Max sees the error of his yuppie ways?

Scott and Crowe, who last worked together on the 2000 film "Gladiator" (which won Oscars for Best Picture and Crowe as Best Actor), should probably stick to togas. Pinstripes and Scotch -- and their counter-symbols, tennis sweaters and vin ordinaire -- clearly aren't their thing. Crowe, whose fame as a heartthrob is nearly as great as his fame as a pugilist, looks alternately bored, perplexed and just plain miserable as a man who's nearly impossible to care about. He's Gordon Gekko, with a better accent but without the fun or sartorial flair.

But care about him everyone does, from his fast-talking female assistant back in London (played with peppery brio by Archie Panjabi) to the vineyard's caretaker Duflot (Didier Bourdon) and his voluptuous wife, played by Isabelle Candelier. (One day someone will explain what's going on with Crowe's hair in this movie -- it's either flopping hither and thither or parted straight down the middle in the kind of lacquered helmet that went out of style in 1922.)

"A Good Year" is such a pastiche of similarly themed movies that, when Max's comically compact SmartCar sideswipes a bicycle being pedaled by a shapely pair of legs, you half expect to see Diane Lane riding it in the Big Reveal. But it's the French actress Marion Cotillard who, while undeniably lovely to look at, is instantly forgettable in the hackneyed role of the unapproachable local girl who can't stand the handsome newcomer's pushy ways -- but falls into his bed anyway.

As a prepackaged entertainment that never goes deeper than a travelogue or highbrow Harlequin romance, "A Good Year" delivers the requisite goods: nice scenery, blunted humor, a happy ending. But it does so with no zest or originality and even comes across as unforgivably lugubrious at times. (Abbie Cornish delivers a particularly surly performance as Max's American relative-or-not.)

Indeed, the only time "A Good Year" comes to life is during the scenes when young Max, played by "Finding Neverland's" Freddie Highmore, is being tutored in the rules of being a gentleman by his beloved Uncle Henry, played with avuncular high spirits by Albert Finney. You know a movie isn't working when you'd rather just watch the flashbacks.

A Good Year (118 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for profanity and some sexual content.

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