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MOVIE REVIEW

Lightweight 'Jet Lag' doesn't manage to get airborne

The French confection mines romantic-comedy cliches to create a couple of charming characters and provide a few modest pleasures.

June 13, 2003|Manohla Dargis | Times Staff Writer

In this minor whimsy of a film, two strangers meet during a transportation strike and partake of some stop-and-go romance. Juliette Binoche plays Rose, a petit-bourgeois beautician on the run from an abusive relationship, while a slicked-up, buttoned-down and gruffly attractive Jean Reno plays Felix, a fastidious celebrity chef on the lam from his past. She's on her way to a new life in Mexico and he's trying to get back with his estranged girlfriend in Munich, which means they're a match tailor-made for the movies.

Strangers in storybook fiction invariably meet cute amid gusts of confusion, and so it is with these two, who hook up over a borrowed cell phone while negotiating the multitudes stranded at Paris' Charles De Gaulle International Airport. Several phone calls, a few more delays and one jealous ex-boyfriend later, the mismatched travelers finally settle into the business of becoming intimately acquainted. Felix is strictly first class and Rose seems destined for steerage, but fate and screenwriting contrivance conspire to bring the pair together (possibly for good), even as their temperaments, worldviews and class backgrounds threaten to tear them apart (also possibly for good). (For some reason, the film's original running time has been shorn of about seven minutes, making the encounter even briefer than originally planned.)

Directed by Daniele Thompson ("La Buche"), working from a script she wrote with her son, Christopher Thompson, "Jet Lag" doesn't offer much by way of visual style or narrative invention. The filmmaking is as unadorned as what develops, which is to be expected from a story that unfolds principally inside an airport -- even one as futuristic-looking as Charles De Gaulle -- and a hotel room. Yes, the characters do end up sharing close quarters, but what happens doesn't play out according to expectation or at least along the randy lines of many contemporary French films. Clothes are shed, but mostly what's stripped away is social convention: Out goes politesse, out come the verbal daggers. "What scares me," sniffs Felix, wrinkling his nose at Rose's perfume, "is mediocrity mixed with complication."

Rose gives as good as she gets, and one of the film's exceedingly modest pleasures is watching how the director rescues this woman from stereotype and Felix's (and our) prejudice. Clad in an electric-blue coat trimmed with unruly fur, the beautician initially comes across as the punch line of some cruel joke, a wincing glamour-don't. There's more to Rose, however, than bad taste. She weeps at the sound of the French national anthem and, to her snobbish companion's surprise, can whip up an excellent vinaigrette. She also reads Felix better and faster than he does her. And because she's played by the sympathetic Binoche, an actress whose vulnerability cuts through even the mostly thickly spackled foundation, Rose captures not just Felix's imagination but also ours. As for Reno, well, who knew there was such charm beneath those guns and poses?

*

'Jet Lag'

MPAA rating: R, for language and brief sexuality

Times guidelines: Mild adult language and situations

Juliette Binoche...Rose

Jean Reno...Felix

Sergi Lopez...Sergio

Scali Delpeyrat...The doctor

Karine Belly...Air France attendant

Miramax Films and Studio Canal present an Alain Sarde production, released by Miramax Films. Director Daniele Thompson. Writers Daniele Thompson, Christopher Thompson. Producer Alain Sarde. Casting Gerard Moulevrier. Director of photography Patrick Blossier. Costume designer Elisabeth Tavernier. Production designer Michele Abbe. Editor Sylvie Landra. Music Eric Serra. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

Exclusively at ArcLight, 6360 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 464-4226.

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