Proper casting can make or break a film. A savvy producer knows not to hire Sylvester Stallone
for a Shakespearean tragedy. Successful studio heads understand that the charismatic Will Smith
is the wrong choice to play a nebbish wallflower incapable of getting the girl. So someone should have objected to the casting of the versatile but intense Russell Crowe
in the lively country lark A Good Year.
Nothing against Crowe. The talented actor routinely throws himself at challenging roles and rarely plays the same type twice. He has proven he can do a lot on screen, but Year demonstrates with certainty that devilish wit and boyish charm are not the sharpest weapons in his acting arsenal. Crowe is rugged but hardly warm. George Clooney
could have owned this project but he'd probably demand the Coen brothers write and direct it. Article continues below
Instead we get Crowe and his frequent collaborator, Ridley Scott
(Gladiator), as they attempt to spin Peter Mayle's beloved novel into a dreamy, male-oriented bit of escapism (a colleague called this Under the Tuscan Sun for men, and he's not far off with that assessment).
London stock trader Max Skinner (Crowe) sees things in monetary values and hardly finds time to mourn when his uncle Henry (Albert Finney
), a father figure, passes away. Being Henry's only known relative, Max inherits the eccentric entrepreneur's fatigued vineyard in the south of France. The prodigal Max returns with the intention to sell, but Marc Klein's adaptation of Mayle's work conspires to keep the number-cruncher on the estate for a week.
Unless Year happens to be your first film experience, you're likely to find the outcome of Max's journey astonishingly predictable, so we're meant to enjoy the picturesque ride through France's heavenly countryside. The exquisite setting dresses up the flat, overdone fable of the workaholic reprogrammed to appreciate the good life. The lazy script takes every generic and dreadfully corny step possible, though I'm unfamiliar with the book and thereby unsure whether to blame Klein or Mayle.
Scott, for his part, paces Year with the buoyancy of a comedy but neglects to include any funny lines of dialogue. The movie has a tendency to repeat what it considers jokes. Max sings Lance Armstrong's praises every time he passes a pack of French cyclists. At least three characters overreact when they find scorpions in their bedrooms – how hilarious. And I stopped counting spit takes after I reached five.
The highlights in this exaggerated travelogue are few and far between. Feisty and sultry Marion Cotillard
holds her own as village hottie Fanny Chenal, Max's main motivation for staying near his chateau. Finney appears in flashbacks and speaks only in bite-sized pearls of wisdom. But Year lulls us to sleep as it wallows in the cultural divide (hey, Ridley, get in line behind Borat
), and it systematically insults the French, the English, and Americans... and all audiences in between.
In the end, the scenery's about the only thing worth appreciating in this mediocre Year.