We know exactly what the Canadian comedy “The Grand Seduction” is trying to do.
Only problem is that it’s been done so much better by movies like”Local Hero” and “Doc Hollywood” and the TV show “Northern Exposure.”
The premise has “quaint” and “quirky” scrawled all over it. For a full generation, the residents of the tiny fishing village of Tickle Head on the coast of Newfoundland have watched their tiny burg deteriorate. The once-busy harbor is now all but empty. Nowadays nobody fishes for a living. Just about every adult is on welfare.
There’s a slim chance that a petrochemical company may be enticed to set up a recycling plant there. One of the requirements, though, is that Tickle Head have a full-time physician.
So the locals, led by the usually inactive Murray French (Brendan Gleeson) — whose totem animal should be a hibernating, grouchy bear — launch a massive deception to lure an M.D. Their target is Dr. Paul Lewis (Taylor Kitsch), who after a run-in with the law is assigned to do a few weeks of public service in Tickle Head.
Murray and company use the Internet to find out everything they can about Paul. Learning that he’s a cricket fanatic, they create a team of former fishermen and outfit them with makeshift uniforms and equipment (a sawed-off rowboat oar becomes a cricket bat). Even more galling, as long as the doc is in town the menfolk who gather to watch cable TV in the local bar must eschew the hockey championship while pretending to be enthusiastic about reruns of famous cricket matches.
And since Paul is a bachelor, the postmistress (Lian Balaban) — the only young single woman still around — is instructed to flirt with the newcomer.
The ratty-looking harbor is given a superficial spruce-up — the worst eyesore gets a fake plaque declaring it an historic structure — and Murray arranges for Paul to “find” five dollar bills lying in his path every morning on his perambulations.
There’s no question of how “The Grand Seduction” will end. It sticks to the well-established story arc. The only issue is whether writers Michael Dowse and Ken Scott and director Don McKellar can make it seem fresh and new.
And… nope. The film tries too hard for too little effect. I came away nursing a whimsy overdose.
Now it is mildly satisfying to see Kitsch, an adolescent hunk on TV’s “Friday Night Lights” and subsequently the shirtless John Carter of Mars, play a self-deprecating comic role. Turns out he can be goofy.
Gleeson, of course, is one of the great English-speaking actors, but here he’s saddled with an endless stream of cliches. Still, it is Brendan Gleeson huffing and puffing up there on the screen.
Faring somewhat better is vet Canadian actor Gordon Pinset (he starred opposite Julie Christie in the excellent “Away from Her”), as the scuzziest of Tickle Head’s scuzzy denizens.
In the end “The Grand Seduction” is impossible to dislike — but equally difficult to fully warm up to.