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Friday, November 10, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"A Good Year": This is dessert, but not everyone will eat it up

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"A Good Year," with Russell Crowe, Albert Finney, Marion Cotillard, Abbie Cornish, Tom Hollander, Freddie Highmore. Directed by Ridley Scott, from a screenplay by Marc Klein, based on the novel by Peter Mayle. 117 minutes. Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual content. Several theaters.

The light in Ridley Scott's "A Good Year" looks so delicious it should be bottled. The tale of an overworked London businessman (Russell Crowe) who inherits a Provence vineyard (based on Peter Mayle's popular 2004 novel), it's twinkly fantasy for grown-ups: All the characters are great-looking, all the interiors are lavishly designed, the mountains of food appear to have come from some culinary heaven, and everyone talks whimsically to themselves, the way people only do in movies. How you react to this movie will depend on your tolerance for this sort of thing; some will find it charming, others will have forgotten it on the way back to the parking lot. Me? Well, I took notes.

Whichever side you fall on, there's no denying that this movie, pretty as it is, is a waste of Crowe's talents. As Max Skinner, a financier who barks orders to an army of minions in a shades-of-gray London office, he's required to do little but smirk, ogle nearby women and smile puckishly from below a pair of oddly curly bangs that punctuate his forehead like quotation marks. Wealthy beyond words, he's one of life's winners (a change from the book, which began with his firing): Inheriting the vineyard, it turns out, is something of a pleasant hassle; the fact that it comes complete with a charmingly eccentric staff and various gorgeous women dropping by is just a bonus

The movie's dramatic arc is the stuff of fantasy: Should Max stay in his scary, dark modernist apartment in rainy London and wallow miserably in his fortune? Or should he take a chunk of that fortune and escape to the good life in Provence, where he can drink wine and wear striped blazers and murmur things in French, throatily and unshavenly, to the beautiful Fanny Chanel (Marion Cotillard)? Yes, romantic comedies are known for stacking the deck, but this one goes rather far in presenting Provence as a sort of wine-drenched utopia, even to the point of an ugly and entirely unnecessary scene involving a pair of boorish, unattractive Americans in a cafe, seemingly present to smugly illustrate the difference between Us and Them.

Scott and Crowe, separately and together, have made some splendid films. This one, seemingly made on a lark, is dessert, and surely they're entitled to it after the meat of "Gladiator," "Master and Commander," "The Insider" and the like. On a rainy day, "A Good Year" may be welcome fantasy; the question is whether anyone will remember it after the clouds have parted.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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