Movie Review: Gleeson redeems otherwise artificial ‘Seduction’

Small-town values: Brendon Gleeson and Taylor Kitsch in
Small-town values: Brendon Gleeson and Taylor Kitsch in "The Grand Seduction."

‘The Grand Seduction’
★★★

When I say you’ve seen “The Grand Seduction” before, I’m not referring to the 2003 French-language original, but to the familiar elements in its plot.

There’s a little “Lone Hero” here, a little “Northern Exposure” there, more than a little “Waking Ned Divine” and bits and pieces from lots of other stories involving eccentric small-town dwellers and alternately charmed and appalled transplanted city slickers. So you can’t give “Grand Seduction” points for originality, or even for being dramatically convincing. It features a couple of first-rate performances, though, and it’s funny enough, often enough, to make its shortcomings bearable,

Its chief asset is Irish actor Brendan Gleeson (“Mad Eye” Mooney in the “Harry Potter” movies) as Murray, the disgruntled acting mayor of the tiny Canadian harbor town of Tickle Head. (“Grand Seduction” is a Canadian English-language remake of Quebec’s “Seducing Dr. Lewis.”)

A once-thriving fishing village, Tickle Head has fallen on hard times, with most of its 120 residents unemployed and on the dole. This includes Murray, who has contrived to collect an additional check for a long-deceased pal.

Murray’s not averse to a little chicanery, in other words, so, when he learns the petroleum refining plant he’s been trying to entice to Tickle Head requires town doctor, he’s prepared to do almost anything to secure one.

That means resorting to shameless deception to convince the young plastic surgeon who has been coerced into practicing there for a month that Tickle Head “is the finest place on Earth he could call home.” He gets an assist from his equally grizzled and disgruntled best friend Simon (Canadian veteran Gordon Pinsent, also quite good) and other assorted colorful locals.

Murray’s plan involves enlisting the entire town to seduce Dr. Lewis (Taylor Kitsch, no doubt enjoying the change of pace from his failed blockbusters “John Carter of Mars” and “Battleship”) by morphing according to his tastes, which they discover, in part, by tapping his phone.

So learning that he loves cricket, they build a field and assemble a team, though they don’t know the rules. One of them is designated to share the doc’s passion for hard-core, ear-bleeding avant-garde jazz. They put money on the town pier for him to find on evening walks.

Murray even offers Dr. Lewis drugs when he arrives because getting busted with a tiny amount by a former mayor is the only reason he’s there. “Would you like some cocaine?” he says while showing him around, as if he’s asking if the doc likes seafood. “Because we’re down with it.”

The comedy works just fine, for the most part. There’s a problem, though, when the film decides to shift to dramatic mode from time to time. As when we’re asked to consider how much the once-proud town is suffering from poverty, or how lonely Dr. Lewis was as an orphan or how little his fiancée back home seems to care for him, setting up a contrived potential relationship with the town’s beautiful yet aloof postmistress (Liane Balaban).

The story even ventures into borderline cruelty when Murray manipulates the doctor by coming on fatherly after pretending he’s lost a beloved son.

Those contrived shifts of mood, plus the shrieking obviousness of some of the town’s deceptions probably would have been enough to scuttle “Grand Seduction” if it weren’t for Gleeson, who grounds the film comically and dramatically. The story is artificial through and through, but he’ll make you believe in Murray.

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