Dir: Ridley Scott. U.S. 2006. 118mins.

Ridley Scott's A Good Year, whichre-teams the director with Russell Crowe, should have been an easily likeableand amiable romantic comedy, adapted from the same-name novel by Peter Mayle, who has had a huge following since his 1989 memoir A Year In Provence.But this tale of a harried investment trader who finds love and inner peaceafter inheriting a French vineyard is marred with an antic, Richard Lester-likeslapstick spirit that is jarring, feels dated and proves a surprisingly poorshowcase for Crowe's talents.

Audiences lured to the filmthinking it will be a sweet change-of-pace for the Gladiator star will find it a flat experience for which thebeautiful scenery only partially compensates. Those looking for a travelogue-styleromance a la Under TheTuscan Sun or Chocolator a knowing enquiry into the appeal of vineyards will come out disappointed.

Scott and Crowe are both bignames worldwide, but they draw best with sweeping, period-piece dramas. Their2000 feature Gladiator was a $458mworldwide smash, while Scott's 2005 Kingdom Of Heaven earned $212 globally, although only $47mof that came from the US;similarly Crowe's 2003 Master &Commander grossed $210m worldwide.

A Good Yearis likely to do more modest business, possibly along the lines of the $66mtotal that Scott's quirky and contemporary MatchstickMen took. (Expect beefier returns for Scott and Crowe's next collaboration,the already announced American Gangster.)

Perhaps its best prospectslie with older conservative mainstream crowds, drawn by the theme and the Mayle name, especially in the UK where the BBC TV series A Year In Provence was well received.

Crowe plays smug,supercilious and viciously competitive English trader Max Skinner, who callshis employees 'lab rats", although his cynically impertinent assistant (asparklingly amusing Archie Panjabi) begrudginglylikes him.

When his Uncle Henry (AlbertFinney, shown in flashbacks) dies and leaves him his French vineyard andestate, Max goes there to sell it. Slowly but surely, the French joie de vivregets to him - helped in great part by his attraction to the sensuous buthot-tempered waitress Fanny (Marion Cotillard). But whena young, pretty American cousin he did not know existed (AbbieCornish) turns up, Max's plans get complicated.

On paper Ridley Scott shouldhave been perfect for a feature like this - not only is he a neighbour of Peter Mayle, whosenovel has been adapted by Marc Klein, but he encouraged him to write the sourcestory in the first place according to marketing sources. And while A Good Year may sound formulaic, it'salso potentially charming if played straight.

But that must have boredScott, possibly because of the BBC adaptation of Mayle'searlier work. Instead his direction keeps disrupting the film's narrative flowwith showy camera and editing tricks, inappropriate pop music and scenes inwhich characters that just don't play as cute and funny as he thinks.

There's one moment whenFanny tries to punish Max - who is unaware he has nearly run her over - byturning on the water in a muck-filled swimming pool in which he's stuck. But itsimply undermines, rather than establishes, their chemistry.

Crowe himself seems to wantto forego any possible romanticism, with a hair parting that feels goofy andsome unappealing outfits. Such a look is reflected in his performance, whichhems, haws and sputters all over the place searching for humor, as if he wantedto be in a screwball comedy, like Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby.

Marion Cotillardhas a devastatingly alluring smile and she plays her part as if she never for asecond doubts her power over men. That makes it all thestranger that the chemistry between her and Crowe is so wan.

As Max's long-lost cousinand possible rival for the vineyard, Abbie Cornish isa very pleasant, fresh-faced and relaxed presence who can be sexy, funny or little-sisterfriendly as need be.

Buried in the story - and alludedto only in dribs and drabs - is a pretty involving suspense yarn about theestate's long-time staff producing a secret wine and using the regular,bitter-tasting product as a cover. There's a touch of Da Vinci Code intrigue to this - if only the film had drawn out theangle more.

Production companies/backers
Scott Free Productions
Fox 2000 Pictures
Ingenious Film Partners

Worldwide distribution
20th Century Fox

Executive producers
Branko Lustig
Julie Payne
Lisa Ellzey

Ridley Scott

Marc Klein
from the book A Good Year by Peter Mayle

Philippe Le Sourd

Dody Dorn

Production design
Sonja Klaus

Marc Streitenfeld
Main cast
Russell Crowe
Marion Cotillard
Albert Finney
Tom Hollander
Abbie Cornish
Archie Panjabi