The graceful style that characterises Merchant Ivory's period productions tends to desert them every time they venture into the modern world. So it proves again with this infuriating adaptation of Kubrick collaborator Diane Johnson's 1997 novel, which assembles a classy international cast only to lumber them with one-dimensional characters, clunky reams of dialogue and a preposterous narrative.
Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts play American sisters - - one young and flighty, the other married and up the spout - - whose Parisian reunion is thrown into disarray when Watts' French husband walks out on her. While Watts becomes embroiled in an ugly legal battle over a priceless painting, Hudson jumps in the sack with her brother-in-law's uncle (Thierry Lhermitte), a slick politician slightly to the right of Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Enough to be getting on with, you'd think. But around the central siblings rotate a gallery of eccentric Yanks and Gallic schemers: Leslie Caron as Watts' grasping mother-in-law, Glenn Close as an ex-pat poet, and Matthew Modine as a loopy cuckold whose inexplicable stalking of Hudson leads to a risible siege finale on top of the Eiffel Tower. And let's not forget Bebe Neuwirth and Stephen Fry as rival art experts, or Sam Waterston and Stockard Channing as the sisters' dotty parents, or...
Blame co-scripters James Ivory and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's slavish devotion to Johnson's original for this curious hodgepodge of culture-clash satire, generation-gap romance and magical realism - - the latter supplied by a bizarre sequence showing a red Hermes handbag floating over the Paris rooftops. Long before this image appears, though, even the most ardent Merchant Ivory fan will have drifted off in their seats.
A terrific cast miss their French connections in this chic but vacuous farrago from the normally reliable Merchant Ivory team. Perhaps you had better stick to the classics, people.