*1/2 (out of four)
In “The Grand Seduction,” Scarlett Johansson plays a lonely, unhappy housewife in a small harbor community. Ryan Gosling plays a handyman who offers to help re-do her kitchen. It’s a hot summer. Sweat drips down their beer bottles and their bodies. You can see where this is going.
Sorry, only one of those things is true about “The Grand Seduction”: It takes place on a tiny harbor in Newfoundland. Hey, the fake description sounds a lot juicier than the real one, which appropriately also involves deception. The 100-some citizens of Tickle Head—we now pause to giggle at that—are desperate for work. Outside of leaving their homes, the only way employment will happen is if an oil company opens a factory there, and that can only happen if the town gets a doctor. So after Dr. Paul Lewis (Taylor Kitsch) decides to spend a month in Tickle Head for reasons that seem like a cutesy version of kidnapping, self-appointed mayor Murray French (Brendan Gleeson) rallies the community to show Paul why he can’t leave.
In a smarter, better movie, that would involve showcasing the best aspects of the tiny population—skills, personalities, etc. Since “The Grand Seduction” is co-written by Ken Scott (“Starbuck” and its American remake, “Delivery Man”), adapting his script for 2003’s “Seducing Dr. Lewis,” the film instead finds Murray taking a page from every sitcom ever and pretending that everyone in town loves the same things as Paul. They just adore cricket. The one and only restaurant adds Paul’s favorite dish. Rather than confront problems with his wife, Murray makes up stories to bond with his target. It’s all a load of hooey, supposedly defended as a result of the ends (economic security) justifying the means (relentless dishonesty).
Mostly, it’s creepy. People listen to Paul’s phone calls (I was less uncomfortable with the surveillance in “This Means War”), and the plan only thrives because Paul is remarkably gullible. The movie also greatly resembles “Doc Hollywood,” which already was unofficially remade as “Cars.”
Somehow in the midst of all this nonsense, “The Grand Seduction” finds a few laughs. Gleeson and Kitsch are likable, even as Paul’s forced to spark an interest in the town’s one and only pretty young woman. Some will rent this movie and feel fine about it. But the attempt at lighthearted sweetness in “The Grand Seduction” is just like the townspeople’s imitation of cricket: They’re playing, but they really don’t know how.
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