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With: Russell Crowe, Albert Finney, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hollander, Freddie Highmore, Abbie Cornish, Archie Panjabi
Written by: Marc Klein, based on a novel by Peter Mayle
Directed by: Ridley Scott
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and some sexual content
Running Time: 118
Date: 09/09/2006

A Good Year (2006)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Days of Wine and Dozes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

For the new film A Good Year, director Ridley Scott and star Russell Crowe meet once again after their hit Best Picture winner Gladiator (2000). It's as if they sensed what millions of viewers, critics and Oscar voters failed to notice -- that Gladiator wasn't very good. It was choppy, ugly and humorless with a one-note performance by Crowe, and so with their new film they've attempted its direct opposite. In fact, they were so adamant about not repeating that film's themes that they borrowed a new one from Pixar's Cars.

Like Cars' Lightning McQueen, Crowe's new character, investment expert Max Skinner, is cocky, successful and arrogant. Like Lightning, he is accidentally waylaid in a hick town and learns the true meaning of love and family. Scott's strength comes through using light and imagery to either trap his characters or to release them from traps. But traps really don't have much to do with this material, and the director just seems lost.

Max's turning point comes when he inherits his uncle's French vineyard. He makes a quick trip to see it, but a fall into an empty swimming pool, a missed meeting, and meeting a hot French girl (played by Marion Cotillard) cause him to stick around for a few days. At first, he intends to sell the vineyard, but a sexy cousin (Abbie Cornish) as well as the comically one-dimensional French staff eventually helps change his mind. Max sees his uncle in several flashbacks, giving Albert Finney a chance to shine in that role, slurping his wine and giving important advice.

For some reason, Max is nothing like other stock-trading Masters of the Universe, for example the slick, reptilian Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) in Oliver Stone's Wall Street. This one is more like Hugh Grant, with floppy hair and big, orange tortoise-shell glasses, bounding down staircases, doing comic double-takes and whipping out snappy (yet self-effacing) one-liners. (He also borrows his uncle's ill-fitting wardrobe.) Though Crowe can be very charming when he turns on his warmth and humor (see Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World), he's not exactly cut out for cute romantic comedy.

When Crowe re-teamed with Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind) to re-create some Oscar glory with Cinderella Man, the effort seemed too obvious. So Scott and Crowe's attempt at this warm, vacation-like movie with wine, beautiful girls, good food and opulent surroundings comes as a fairly refreshing surprise. But their attempt and the outcome are two entirely different things. It could have been carefree and weightless like Under the Tuscan Sun (2003), but A Good Year ultimately places too much strain on Max's predictable redemption rather than redeeming -- and freeing -- itself. A Good Year

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