The well-ordered emotional life of a middle-aged lawyer is thrown for a loop by a beauteous Monegasque babe in Anne Fontaine's "The Girl From Monaco."

The well-ordered emotional life of a middle-aged lawyer is thrown for a loop by a beauteous Monegasque babe in Anne Fontaine’s “The Girl From Monaco,” a generally entertaining piece of fluff that’s kept afloat by a weathered cast including Fabrice Luchini and Roschdy Zem. Good-looking slice of Gallic frippery will make a pleasant addition to fests and film weeks, but lacks the special smarts to put it far into distribution beyond Europe. Pic goes out in Gaul Aug. 20.

Though there are occasional moments when the movie flirts with deeper emotional currents, this is nowhere near (and to be fair, doesn’t pretend to be) on a par with Fontaine’s best work, the 2001 family drama “How I Killed My Father.” Its overall tone suggests a glossier, younger version of her multigenerational romancer, “Oh La La!” (aka “Nouvelle chance”).

Bertrand Beauvois (Luchini) is a brilliant, fiftysomething Paris lawyer who’s come to Monaco to defend Edith Lasalle (vet Stephane Audran), who’s accused of murdering a Russian. Bertrand has an ordered lifestyle, knows he’s at the top of his profession and wants everything to stay that way.

Out of the shadows and into his life springs Christophe Abadi (Zem), a tightly wound, deadly serious bodyguard who’s been hired to protect him by Lasalle’s son, Louis (Gilles Cohen), afraid of a reprisal by Russian hitmen. Script has some early fun as Christophe sticks to Bertrand like glue, checking out every room he enters and establishing a “security perimeter” around his bemused but finally irritated client.

However, Christophe, who hides studly smarts beneath his bodyguard exterior, does come in handy when Bertrand is descended upon by a hot and horny friend (Jeanne Balibar) from Paris. The two men gradually form a friendship of sorts.

The relationship gets an extra layer of glue when Bertrand is targeted by bimbo weather girl Audrey Varela (stunner Louise Bourgoin). As liberated as a young colt, and with a bod kissed by Aphrodite, Audrey soon gets under Bertrand’s skin in a way he knows makes no sense but can’t resist. All Christophe’s warnings fall on deaf ears, though the time eventually comes when Bertrand asks for his friend’s help.

Though the theme of a younger nymph thawing out a middle-aged man’s reserve is hardly new, pic does add a fresh dimension in the parallel relationship between the lawyer and his bodyguard. Christophe is an ex-street kid of no special education who’s taught himself a trade, and the genuine interest and respect he gets from a gent like Bertrand is new in his life.

However, the bond is never convincing enough — beyond a superficial, lightly comic level — to make the script’s later developments believable. In a similar way, the attraction between Audrey and Bertrand can’t bear the weight the story later assigns it.

Film would have been more successful played simply as a light romantic comedy, and it does work occasionally on that level, with the three main thesps nicely underplaying their characters. In a role he can now almost phone in, Luchini is just fine; ditto Zem as the craggy-faced bodyguard. Bourgoin (previously a real-life celebrity weather girl) is impressive in her first dramatic role, garbed in a jaw-dropping selection of costumes, with a combo of directness and pure ambition that generates screen presence.

Tech package is slick, with rich, sunny Monaco shown to its best widescreen advantage and Philippe Rombi’s score adding some cream to the cake.

The Girl From Monaco

France

Production

A Warner Bros. France release of a Staragora presentation of a Cine@, Soudaine Compagnie production, in association with Warner Bros. Pictures France. (International sales: Pyramide Intl., Paris.) Produced by Bruno Pesery, Philippe Carcassonne. Directed by Anne Fontaine. Screenplay, Fontaine, Benoit Graffin, Jacques Fieschi.

Crew

Camera (color, Alga Panavision widescreen), Patrick Blossier; editor, Maryline Monthieux; music, Philippe Rombi; art director, Yves Fournier; costume designer, Catherine Leterrier; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital), Brigitte Taillandier, Jean-Claude Laureux, Jean-Pierre Laforce; assistant director, Olivier Coutard. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (Piazza Grande), Aug. 9, 2008. (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Galas.) Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Fabrice Luchini, Roschdy Zem, Louise Bourgoin, Stephane Audran, Jeanne Balibar, Gilles Cohen, Alexandre Steiger, Philippe Duclos, Helene de Saint-Pere, Christophe Vandevelde, Pierre Bourgeon.

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