Wednesday, July 2, 2003

Jet Lag

Posted By on Wed, Jul 2, 2003 at 12:00 AM

Jet Lag, directed by Danièle Thompson (La Bûche), who co-wrote the script with her son Christopher, is being touted as a romantic comedy, although it's only sporadically comic and mechanically romantic. Set mostly in an airport terminal and a hotel room, it seems like a play - a little cramped and dialogue-driven, and full of contrivances to keep its two main characters together. Its minor attraction is the opportunity to watch its two stars, Juliette Binoche and Jean Reno, gliding through the kind of lightweight fare that they don't get to do all that often.

Binoche plays Rose, a beautician who's running away from her abusive husband and planning to start her life over again in Mexico. Rose's neurosis is manifested by her excessive use of makeup, which is not quite at the Tammy Faye level of distress-signaling but definitely heading there. But Rose's mask isn't for her to hide behind; rather, it's a miscalculated attempted to project a pleasing front. Rose is a needy lady with a serious self-esteem problem and, as she admits at one point, she's attracted to brutes who abuse her.

Reno's character, Felix, a famous chef who's heading to a funeral in Munich where he hopes to hook up with an ex-girlfriend, has a different set of problems. An excessively controlling type, his concerns about his new venture into the frozen food business are so intense that he's given to panic-induced fainting spells. Other than that, he keeps himself tightly wrapped.

Stuck in a Paris airport during an apparently sudden air traffic controller's strike, the two meet after Rose manages to accidentally flush her cell phone down a toilet and then asks Felix if she can borrow his. Reluctant but civil, he lets her use it and she calls her girlfriend, Sabine, to tell her that she's finally left her husband. She returns the phone, thanks him and wanders off - and that would be that, except that Sabine calls back and tells Felix that he must warn Rose that her husband, in a crazed rage, is heading for the airport. Felix finds Rose in the airport cafeteria, having an amiable conversation with some male acquaintance, and blurts out the warning, unaware that the man is the alleged "crazed" husband. Hubby, obviously unstable, throws a fit and Felix wanders off figuring that's what you get for trying to be helpful.

It's a keynote scene, establishing the trap of strife and reconciliation that Rose is trying to escape, the basic decency beneath Felix's off-putting up-tightness, and the fact that the characters are going to act at the behest of the plot rather than in any realistic way. (The audience suspects that Rose is sitting with her husband, but it doesn't occur to Felix that this might be the case because it would ruin the joke, such as it is.)

Rose and Felix keep running into each other and eventually end up sharing a hotel room while waiting out the strike. Even at this point they still seem like an obvious mismatch - though, of course, it's only a matter of time before the scales fall from their eyes and they see how they're fated to become a couple. The expected denouement is held off as long as possible, but finally arrives accompanied, inexplicably, by music from the movie Midnight Cowboy.

Reno is amusing and, when he lowers his large Gallic nose over a room service order and vigorously sniffs it like a hungry but wary hound, the movie seems genuinely comic. But too much of this is by the numbers; the last act is hokey and there's too much time-treading talk.

And on an unchivalrous note: When Binoche was younger and making those films with Leos Carax (and Blue with Kieslowski), she was such a stunning presence that one could hardly tell - or care - whether or not she was a good actress. Now in her early 40s, her ethereal beauty has just begun to blur and one begins to wonder if she has more to offer than sadness and an enigmatic smile. Whatever the case, one will have to wait for a better movie than this to find out.

Showing exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.

Richard C. Walls writes about film and music for Metro Times. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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