'The Grand Seduction': Town-needs-doctor formula works with a flirtatious twist

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceJune 26, 2014 

Brendan Gleeson, left, and Taylor Kitsch star in The Grand Seduction.

DUNCAN DE YOUNG

  • MOVIE REVIEW

    'The Grand Seduction'

    ★★★☆☆

    PG-13 for suggestive material and drug references. eOne. 1:53. Kentucky.

Small, remote town pulls every trick in the book to land itself a much-needed town doctor. The locals are always colorful and quirky; the new doc, a Big Medicine cynic.

Maybe he's a New Yorker, as he was on TV's Northern Exposure. Maybe he's a would-be plastic surgeon, as he was in Doc Hollywood. Or maybe he's French-Canadian, as he was in 2003's Seducing Doctor Lewis and is in its new remake, The Grand Seduction.

It's a formula comedy, and the formula works as well as it ever has, thanks largely to a winning cast and a heightened sexual twist to its message of "we need a doc to survive as a town."

Tickle Cove, Newfoundland, used to be an island fishing town where men had work and provided for their families, where men felt like men.

"Life was a thing of beauty," narrates Murray French (Brendan Gleeson).

But now, the cod have gone, as have most of the young — off to "town," nearby St. John's. The men left behind collect unemployment checks and drink. There might be sex in the city, but not in Tickle Cove.

When the mayor skips town, Murray frets. When his wife takes a job in St. John's, he is finally shaken from his lethargy. Insults from his pal, grizzled old Simon (Gordon Pinsent), are the final straw.

Murray and the village make one last-ditch attempt to land a dubious "petrochemical byproduct reprocessing plant" ("What do they make? They make jobs!") that Big Oil needs to park someplace that has enough people to work it — someplace with a doctor.

Fortune smiles on them when fast-talking, newly licensed plastic surgeon Dr. Lewis (Taylor Kitsch) passes through the St. John's airport with a baggie of cocaine. Security screening is what the old mayor of Tickle Cove is now doing in St. John's. A sneaky deal is struck: The doc will spend a month in Tickle Cove to avoid an arrest.

Ken Scott, who wrote Seducing Doctor Lewis, co-wrote this remake with Michael Dowse. They flesh out the earlier French-Canadian comedy with some edge: the whole sexual-inadequacy-of-unemployment thing, and the cocaine gimmick.

But where they really lucked out was with this cast. Gleeson was born for mischief and is a natural at leading a Tickle Cove-wide con job to trick the doctor into staying. They dress the town up — uprighting the toppled tombstones, fixing fences, painting. How do you explain that dilapidated house at the village entrance? A "World Heritage Site" sign in front will do.

Pinsent is a goofy delight. Kitsch has never been more charming.

The NSA has nothing on Tickle Cove, as the town's people research the doctor, spy on him and listen in on his phone calls.

He loves cricket? They'll fake a cricket match and pretend to be enthusiasts. He likes cocaine?

"We're down with it," Murray brags. The townsfolk show off their scars from "the substitute" doctor to play on his guilt. And even though Lewis is engaged, Murray tries to enlist the pretty postmaster (Liane Balaban).

It's all more twee than madcap, kind of a Canadian Waking Ned Devine. Not that it's as funny as that, or as brisk. Don McKellar has directed a 90-minute movie that lasts nearly two hours.

So The Grand Seduction is, like Tickle Cove itself, a bit of an oversell. But Gleeson, Pinsent and Kitsch make this a diverting comic travelogue for anybody who misses Northern Exposure but has no intention of moving to Alaska (or eastern Canada).

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