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Grounded 

Jet Lag never takes off

French cinema, once known for its Godards and Renoirs, is now creating works just as mediocre as the most uninspired mainstream American product.

Jet Lag tries to ride on the coattails of its esteemed art house history while still bowing before the almighty Hollywood buck. The film opens with a self-reflexive nod to the mediocrity to come as a woman's voice describes our delight in Hollywood make-believe. It then proceeds to deliver those confectionary goods in a contrived scenario of an improbable couple who find love in each other's arms.

Rose (Juliette Binoche) is a mother- dominated, insecure beautician fleeing an abusive boyfriend for Acapulco. Felix (Jean Reno), on the other hand, typifies the kind of executive banality played out in The Graduate's prophesy of "plastics!" He is a chef turned frozen foods titan who's launching a new brand of haute cuisine dinners. He's stressed out over romantic troubles and on the way to the funeral of his ex- girlfriend's grandmother. Faithful to his socioeconomic typecasting, Felix is a jumble of upper middle-class anxieties, including complex allergies, hypochondria and sexual repression.

The unlikely pair are stranded during a transit strike in Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport where they Meet-Technologically-Cute when Rose borrows Felix's cell phone and he becomes entangled in her personal dramas.

More drudgery ensues as the pair separate then come together again when Felix steps in between codependent Rose and her bruiser boyfriend.

When Felix's flight to Munich is delayed yet again, the airline offers him a complimentary hotel room. He takes pity on Rose, curled up on an airport bench, and offers her a bed in his room. Suddenly, the mood of the film shifts outrageously. What looked like an act of kindness transforms into a sadistic one. Felix insults Rose's tackiness, her inability to break up with her scumbag boyfriend, her addiction to blush and eyeliner. The pair square off in class warfare over a room service dinner as director Daniele Thompson inserts one more pitifully last ditch effort to throw a wrench in the inevitable horizontal rumba. The sparks fly, but only because the ironclad laws of romantic comedy demand that they do.

Jet Lag is probably most notable for the cultural peculiarities that keep it a cut above the usual Hollywood formula romance: At an airport Hilton, Rose swims in the hotel pool in the oh-so-French buff and class snobbery is played out in matters of food -- Rose prefers rich sauces while Felix has unadorned, health- conscious tastes.

There are some endearing touches to be sure in the script by Thompson (La Bûche) and her son Christopher. Rose's full throttle embrace of bourgeois values and ultra-feminine ways can be partly explained as a reaction to her Communist parents, who named her after German socialist leader Rosa Luxemburg. And Rose's lack of interest in the trappings of Felix's fast-paced executive life are equally funny and engaging, like her sensualist's putdown of the unsexy "allure" of the World Wide Web.

"It has no smell," she snaps.

An absence of sparks between Reno and Binoche are the least of Jet Lag's problems. The film's tired romantic comedy conventions are bad enough, but its unappealing, contrived characters are its Achilles' heel.

Not since Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite has an actress done such a superficial imitation of a tart. Binoche's cinched-at-the-ankles walk and fluttering arms offer a new low in the annals of bimbodom. Reno is little better -- a nasty, cranky jerk with "daddy issues" whose yuppie whining and class snobbery are so well done, one never warms to the loathsome guy. When the film sputters predictably toward making a dispirited love connection between Rose and Felix, it's hard to feel a rush of convivial joy for characters it would be unpleasant to have as in-flight seatmates.

felicia.feaster@creativeloafing.com

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