From the advertisements and concept, I expected A Good Year, in which Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe push themselves far outside of their comfort zones, to be a tepid romantic drama. That would have been a fairly mediocre film. It also would have been better than the film that they actually made.

Ladies and gentlemen, the world now has a Scott/Crowe romantic fucking comedy.

In a perverse way, watching Scott direct rom-com and watching Crowe act it is kind of thrilling: it's not merely that they are not in their "zone," so much as they don't actually seem to understand what comedy is. There are moments that are recognizably, undeniably "gags," but they are not remotely funny. This is a film in which that staple of stoopid humor, the dog urinating on a man's shoe, is shot with the solemn intensity of a funeral in a Dreyer film. Another moment witnesses a small European car driving around a roundabout in a sped-up frame rate that is meant to be hilarious, but the effect is horrifying. I was as sad watching that scene as I think I have ever been while watching a movie. It is like seeing the world's worst and most hateful clown.

Part of the reason for the depth of this unfunniness is, ironically, the only thing in the film as it stands that makes it bearable. And that is that A Good Year is based on a book by a Provence tour pimp named Peter Mayle, whose books consist of non-fiction about the French wine country and novels which weld meaningless plots onto celebrations of the French wine country. Which bleeds into A Good Year in the form of some of the most balls-out perfect scenery you will ever see in a motion picture. The French countryside, like the American Southwest or New Zealand, is impossible to ruin on film, but that does not mean that a gifted cinematographer cannot make it look unacceptably beautiful, and in this case we have Philippe Le Sourd to thank for the most postcard-lovely movie of 2006.

With the good thing out of the way, I might as well address the bad things, and they are many...Crowe plays Max Skinner, a venal asshole who trades stock in London. When Max's beloved Uncle Henry (Albert Finney, wasted in a glorified cameo) dies, Max inherits the old man's estate and vineyards. Upon traveling, he meets the most gorgeous woman in France (Marion Cotillard), eats good food, relaxes, wants for nothing, and plans to sell the whole shebang to the first bidder, because he is an Ee-vil Capitalist. But wait! What's that on the horizon? Why, could it be love come to turn Max's head and teach him that it's not that the place doesn't suit his life, it's "Your life that doesn't suit this place."*

Thus Max goes along on his utterly predictable redemption, while Scott films flirtation scenes like he's making a documentary about Auschwitz. It's not merely that his touch is not light: it is more ponderous and airless than any of his films, from the bloody fields of Gladiator to the nightmarish filthy hole of his last real masterpiece, Blade Runner. Comedy is a serious business, we are told, but never has it been this clear that the director had an unpleasant time doing his job. To say nothing of Crowe, hardly a comedian, whose only apparent motivation for being here is to apologise to the world for certain phone-throwing proclivities. But his attempts at roguish playful charm are horrible to witness, and frankly make us long for the wanton immoral violence of his real life. I have probably seen comedies and comic actors which are less funny than this, but never, ever for the reason that the filmmakers are apparently clinically depressed.

When I see movies that I know are going to be bad, it's usually because I'm wearing my filmmaker hat, not my cinephile hat. In other words, I learn what not to do. And in this case, I learned a whole lot:
-Don't make a movie based on a travel guide author's novel.
-Don't cast homicidal Aussies as romantic leads.
-Don't make poor Harry Nilsson turn over in his grave by using his songs as the metaphoric signifier of your hero's nostalgia.
-Don't think that jokes about people getting bitten by scorpions get funnier because they are repeated four times.
-People with French accents are not automatically funny.
-People with Indian accents are not automatically funny.
-Australians with English accents are definitely not automatically funny.
-For the love of God and His little angels, when the only thing that's remotely good about your film is the scenery, don't keep cutting to London in a rainstorm.

*That's a verbatim line of dialogue from Marc Klein's helpless screenplay, and I'm sad to report that it's far from being the worst.