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'The Girl Fro m Monaco' fizzles out too soon

Also reviewed: Sabbir Khan's 'Kambakkht Ishq'

July 03, 2009|Gary Goldstein; Kevin Thomas

A funny thing happens during the ostensibly fizzy French import "The Girl From Monaco": It stops being funny. And fizzy. But that's not such a bad thing since, once this lightweight romantic farce seems to realize it has nowhere particularly unique to go, it digs deeper and turns into a more darkly interesting morality tale. Director Anne Fontaine ("How I Killed My Father") smoothly manages this unforeseen tonal shift, even if her script (co-written with Benoit Graffin) doesn't lay the most thorough groundwork for the film's eventual destination.

Set in scenic Monaco, which is brightly captured by cinematographer Patrick Blossier, the movie sets up a quirky love triangle between renowned Paris lawyer Bertrand (Fabrice Luchini), uber-efficient bodyguard Christophe (Roschdy Zem), who's been hired to protect Bertrand while he's in town defending a high-profile accused murderess and Christophe's flighty ex-girlfriend Audrey (Louise Bourgoin), a gorgeous TV weather gal who initiates a curious fling with the middle-aged, unremarkable-looking Bertrand. Audrey's infectious free spirit and unapologetic sexiness overwhelm perpetual bachelor Bertrand's need to understand what the hot young thing sees in him, despite Christophe's adamant warnings against her. The bodyguard's disapproval creates a rift between the two men, until Audrey's stepped-up pursuit of Bertrand ultimately bonds him to Christophe in a way that proves both unexpected and irrevocable.

Though she's the title character, Audrey serves more as an engine to the Bertrand-Christophe relationship than as a fully realized femme fatale. Thus, it's the complex male-buddy pairing here that provides the film's early humor and later heft, with the verbal, neurotic Bertrand and the taciturn, controlled Christophe making a perfectly complementary -- and most satisfying -- movie odd couple.

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Gary Goldstein --

"The Girl From Monaco." MPAA Rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. In French with English subtitles. In selected theaters.

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Bollywood without charm

With Sabbir Khan's "Kambakkht Ishq" (which translates as "Damn Love") Bollywood literally goes to Hollywood, but the traditions of Hindi escapist cinema remain rigidly intact: Lots of flashy musical numbers, endless romantic wrangling, extravagant melodrama and broad comedy relief, adding up to a 142-minute-running time -- and that's not including an intermission. Conventional wisdom has always held that all this adds up to giving the mass Indian audience its money's worth, but the upscale L.A. settings make the tried-and-true formula seem all the more old-fashioned. The film is harmlessly silly, absurdly drawn-out, occasionally amusing and at moments even touching, but is mainly tedious.

Akshay Kumar's Viraj is a ruggedly handsome and charismatic Hollywood stuntman, an enormously successful playboy who thinks his brother (Aftab Shivdasani) is crazy to want to get married. Even more vehemently opposed to his marriage is the sister, Simitra (Kareena Kapoor) of the bride-to-be (Amitra Arora). Viraj and Simitra experience an avalanche of such intense mutual antipathy that the film telegraphs that ultimately they will fall madly in love. Simitra is a drop-dead gorgeous model turned medical student who doesn't believe in love because she mistakenly believes her late father was a relentless womanizer. Her aunt inexplicably doesn't tell her that this is untrue until very late in the film. Had this occurred earlier Simitra wouldn't seem so unsympathetic, and Khan could have more effectively cut to the heart of the matter, which is the challenge of two people of exceptional looks, sexual allure and enormous ego daring to surrender to love.

The film's three Hollywood guest stars, Sylvester Stallone, Denise Richards and Brandon Routh, are relaxed and genial, and spared the histrionics genre convention demands of Kumar and Kapoor, seem natural and effective. Even so, Kumar and Kapoor, of the illustrious four-generation Kapoor acting clan and granddaughter of the celebrated actor-director Raj Kapoor, are talented, authentic stars. "Kambakkht Ishq" is glitzy, noisy -- but short on crossover appeal.

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Kevin Thomas --

"Kambakkht Ishq." Unrated. Some sensuality. In Hindi and English, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours, 22 minutes (plus intermission). At selected theaters.

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