The movie Liam Neeson should not have made
MADE IN ITALY
Director: James D'Arcy
Starring: Liam Neeson, Micheál Richardson, Lindsay Duncan
Running time: TBC
Verdict: Disappointing, chocolate box rom-com
Perhaps it's unfair to single out the weasel.
But the pesky little critter's underwhelming performance sums up everything that's wrong with this clumsy, clichéd romcom starring Liam Neeson, who really should have known better, and his real-life son Micheal Richardson.
The animal's initial "surprise" appearance, in the kitchen of the delipidated Tuscan villa owned by Neeson's bohemian artist, falls flat on its arse - along with one of the characters.
The joke of which it is the butt - "I wouldn't go in the bathroom if I were you. There's a large weasel in the sink. That's not a euphemism" - is just as poorly-executed.
And while the unwanted animal's eventual departure should result in some kind of pay off, it's actually more of a non-event.
Made In Italy tells the story of a grief-stricken father and his estranged son.
To buy the gallery he manages from his soon-to-be ex-wife's parents, Jack (Richardson) persuades Robert (Neeson) to sell the villa left to them by his late mother.
Arriving at the property, the two men are shocked to find that it has fallen into a terrible state of disrepair.
While restoring the rustic sanctuary to its former glory, they also renovate their own relationship.
Robert has never fully recovered from the death of his wife, some two decades earlier. Returning to the villa, he slowly begins to heal.
Threatened with the loss of his identity as well as his marriage, Jack desperately needs something to hold onto.
As Tuscany - and in particular a gifted Italian chef named Natalia (Valeria Bilello) - begins to work its magic, he, too, begins to live a little.
It's a sturdy, reliable premise with plenty of miles on the clock, but first-time writer-director James D'Arcy doesn't have the skills to nurse it through the necessary gear changes.
He labours up and down the rolling hills of comedy, tragedy, romance and nostalgia in first.
Richardson is as ill-at-ease in the verdant Italian landscape as he is in the London art world.
Bilello is similarly out of place - perhaps the self-consciousness of her performance can be explained by the fact she is acting in her second language.
And it's hard to think of another film for which Neeson has been so ill-suited.
The screenplay's parallels with his own life - the actor's wife, Micheal's mother Natasha Richardson, died after a skiing accident in 2009 - are hard to ignore. That might well have blurred his judgement.
"Tuscany is a romantic idyll,'' observes Lindsay Duncan's tart-tongued real estate agent during an early tour of the villa.
"It's why all my clients come here."
Movie goers have similar expectations from a cinematic landscape such as this. But Made In Italy has all the cultural authenticity of a cheap postcard.
OPENS AUGUST 13
RAUCOUS REUNION WARMER THAN THE BIG CHILL
WE'LL END UP TOGETHER
Director: Guillaume Canet
Starring: François Cluzet, Marion Cotillard, Gilles Lellouche
Running time: 134 minutes
Verdict: A crowd-pleasing stand-alone sequel
ON the eve of his 60th birthday, Max (François Cluzet) just wants to be alone.
And with mates as brutally honest as the ones in this deftly handled ensemble comedy, who can blame him?
Strung out and depressed, the self-made restaurateur flees Paris for his sprawling summer house ahead of the milestone event.
But when the long-time holiday companions from whom he has become estranged front up on his doorstep unannounced, Max is forced to confront a closet full of demons
Laughter, humiliation, and healing ensue - not necessarily in that order.
When it comes to discussing each other's flaws, the French can be unusually frank. Especially with a few bottles of vin not so ordinaire under their belt.
Co-starring Marion Cotillard as a messy, reluctant single mother and Gilles Lellouche as "the poor-man's George Clooney", this French version of The Big Chill makes the characters in its American counterpart seem almost frigid.
Sitting around the table after dinner, a maudlin Marie (Cotillard) provokes her companions with the statistic that three-and-a-bit of them will get cancer.
After Max's new partner, Sabine (Clementine Baert), reveals that she is currently in remission, Antoine (Laurent Lafitte) silences everyone with his insensitive observation that Sabine therefore represents "the bit".
We'll End Up Together, the sequel to Guillaume Canet's 2010 hit Little White Lies, is set several years after its predecessor.
Ludo's (Jean Dujardin) death has torn the tight-knit group apart.
Max, in particular, has become embittered and isolated.
Due to a string of uncharacteristically reckless decisions, the tightly wound businessman, whose self-image is reflected by his material wealth, is now facing bankruptcy.
He hasn't told a soul.
His friends' surprise appearance upsets Max's plans to sell the house in which they have all holidayed together for the past 20 years.
At times, their raucous, unruly collective presence pushes Max closer to the edge, at others, it gets his heart beating again.
partner) handles the potentially melodramatic material with a light, sure hand, expertly weaving between comedy and drama to undercut any mawkishness - although at 134 minutes long, the film is a little too long and the second act is over-complicated.
A slick, Gallic defrosting of Lawrence Kasdan's 1983 classic (however, the retro soundtrack fails to elicit the same goosebumps).
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Originally published as The movie Liam Neeson should not have made