Aiming for souffléhood but never rising, “A Good Year” represents an attempt to lighten up on the part of Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe — a lousy idea, it turns out. As the director of “Alien” and “Black Hawk Down” goes for sun-splotchy froth and the star of “Master and Commander” and “Gladiator” seeks his inner clodhopper, vapidness and clunkiness prevail in this boy-meets-grape comedy set in France’s Provence region.
Basically, the film suffers from a cliched premise and a hackneyed execution of it. Touted as a reunion of Crowe and Scott, who collaborated in “Gladiator,” it makes that overblown spectacle look profound.
Crowe plays Max Skinner, an unscrupulous London investment banker who learns that his uncle Henry (Albert Finney) has died and that he’s inherited Henry’s quaint Provence house and vineyard. He arrives at the estate with the intent of lucratively selling it, but circumstances prolong his stay. This allows for snags to develop — romance with a bistro owner (Marion Cotillard); the arrival of a young Californian (Abbie Cornish) who claims to be Henry’s daughter (thus, Henry’s heir) — and for Max’s awakening to occur.
Though the premise of a slick urban scoundrel experiencing the bucolic and finding redemption is pathetically stale, the movie might have generated some romantic, culture-clash, or midlife-crisis spark between the predictable plot points served up by screenwriter Marc Klein (adapting Peter Mayle’s book) had Scott and Crowe, whose talents tend toward steel and heft, been nimblerwith the light stuff.
Instead, we get the cinematic equivalent of the estate’s vinegary harvest: unfunny pratfalls; Max stumbling around in a drained pool; hokey childhood flashbacks; a peeing dog. Crowe and Cotillard are photogenic, but their characters’ love affair has sitcom-level resonance. An interesting plot thread involving black-market wine receives scant, muddy attention.
While more impressive in character-rich roles (“The Insider,” “L.A. Confidential”) than in epic-style heroic ones (“Gladiator,” “Master and Commander”), Crowe indeed has movie-star qualities, but, in light-comic mode, he works the charisma clumsily. The filmmakers don’t help by sugarcoating Max’s ruthless elements. This makes it impossible for Crowe to do anything imposing with such traits, and, consequently, Max’s transformation can’t feel momentous.
Jots of brightness exist. The scenery’s pleasing; a scorpion gag is almost funny. But mostly, “A Good Year” is a good yawn. For superior fare about the joys of wine, wine country and l’amour, rent “Sideways” or Eric Rohmer’s “Autumn Tale.”
A Good Year ?
Starring Russell Crowe, Marion Cotillard, Abbie Cornish and Albert Finney
Written by Marc Klein
Based on the book by Peter Mayle
Directed by Ridley Scott
Running time 1 hour, 58 minutes