Movie Review: “The Grand Seduction” has the familiar charms of a winning formula

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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 it’s new remake, “The Grand Seduction.” It’s a formula comedy in which the formula works as well as it ever has, thanks largely to a winning cast and a heightened sexual twist to its “We need a doc to survive as a town” message.

Tickle Cove used to be an island fishing town where men had work and provided for their families, where men felt like men, cutely illustrated by a town wide sex scene in an opening flashback.

“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 may be sex in the city, but not in Tickle Cove.

When the mayor skips town in the dark of night, 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, sort of a Canadian Brendan Gleeson), are the final straw.

“You’ll become the new little Missus,” Simon teases. “Oh God, you’ll LOVE Yoga Ball!”

Murray takes the village by the horns to 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 somewhere — somewhere with enough people to work it, somewhere with a doctor.

Fortune smiles on them when fast-talking, newly-licensed plastic surgeon Dr. Lewis (Taylor Kitsch) passes through the airport in St. John’s fresh from a Caribbean cricket match — he’s an enthusiast — with a baggie of cocaine — “just this ONCE.” Security screening is what the old mayor of Tickle Cove is now doing for a living 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,” and “Starbuck” (remade as “Delivery Man,” with Vince Vaughn), co-wrote this remake with Michael Douse, and 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 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 hat dilapidated house at the village entrance? A “World Heritage Site” sign in front will do.

Pinsent, best known for the Alzheimer’s drama “Away From Her” and TV’s “Republic of Doyle,” is a goofy delight. And Kitsch, playing a gullible city slicker, has never been more charming.

The NSA has nothing on Tickle Cove, as they 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 postmistress (Liane Balaban).

“Adopt a flirtatious attitude toward the doctor,” he cajoles. She’s not having it, or “him.”

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 (“Last Night”) has directed a 90 minute movie buried inside a nearly two-hour-long one.

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 in this case, Newfoundland.

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MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some suggestive material and drug references

Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Liane Balaban, Gordon Pinsent

Credits: Directed by Don McKellar, written by Ken Scott and Michael Douse, based on the French Canadian comedy, “Seducing Dr. Lewis.” An eOne release

Running time: 1:53

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One Response to Movie Review: “The Grand Seduction” has the familiar charms of a winning formula

  1. I’ve always liked Brendan Glesson so I might have to check out The Grand Seduction. As a Canadian I can tell you that Newfoundland is basically just like Alaska haha. Great review!

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