I had hoped that the cringe-worthy comedy that took its place as a TV genre would confine itself to the short doses-long format of the sitcom.
But no. There’s a bit of cringing involved in most every film that alumni of “The Office” or “Veep” bring with them to big screen projects.
On rare occasions — a Steve Carell movie here and there, Paul Lieberstein (“The Office”) in “Song of Back and Neck,” for instance, “Cedar Rapids,” the only worthy star vehicle on Ed Helms’ resume — the squirm-inducing persona that hangs around a performer’s neck makes for something amusing and rewarding spread over 90 minutes.
Every other time? Ugh.
Case in point? “Under the Eiffel Tower,” a star vehicle for Matt Walsh of “Veep” that has many a cringe and barely a laugh. It starts with a huuuuuge cringe, and no comic payoff, and spirals down the drain like wine in the spit-sink of a tasting gone terribly wrong.
Utterly without charm? Close enough.
Walsh plays Stuart, a Louisville bourbon salesman who drinks his way out of a job and is inexplicably rescued by a “join the family on our trip to France” lifeline tossed by friends.
Even less explicably, he betrays the friendship of Tillie (Michaela Watkins) and Frank (David Wain) by turning a lifelong “Uncle” Stuart connection to their new PhD daughter (Dylan Gelula of “The Unsinkable Kimmy Schmidt”) into something icky beyond measure.
He proposes to this woman he’s known since childhood, someone half his age, “Under the Eiffel Tower” and in front of her dismayed dad and comically furious mother.
Watkinsm, of “Good Boys” and TV’s “Transparent,” is the best thing in “Under the Eiffel Tower,” and after that abortive, friendship-killing debacle, she is rarely seen again as the movie leaves that tower and proceeds, in the most trite and contrived ways, to pair up Stuart with a roguesh Scottish footballer stereotype (Reid Scott) as traveling companion, and lovely and sophisticated vintner Louise (Judith Godrèche), whom they meet on a train and proceed to compete over for the rest of the film.
Romance is in the air, or in the wine, in “the land that gave us Piaf, the guillotine and Andre the Giant.”
The “meet cute” debate over the relative merits of wine and bourbon is almost clever (Godrèche had a hand in the script), if an inaccurate oversimplification.
“Wine makes you feel warm and sensual. Whisky dills and agitates.”
Stuart is a tactless schlub, Liam is an arrogant, hustling douche, and we run into a Frenchman or two who fits that feminine hygeine description as well.
Everything happens inorganically, with little regard for amusing twists, fated “connection” and the like. No, this French beauty must be drawn to the boorish alcoholic Lousivlle doormat because…he can cook and she can’t? He’s a born salesman and she isn’t, improvising a plummy wine-tasting spiel for moronic American and British tourists?
One day, after she’s let them stay at the winery owned by the infirm American Gerard (Gary Cole), she asks, “You’re still here?”
That’s the perfect question to ask the movie, and the best spot to dump out of it lest you waste another 45 minutes on this directionless “road comedy,” this unamusing and unromantic “romantic comedy.”
Love the scenery (not enough of it), hated most everything else about “Under the Eiffel Tower.”
MPAA Rating: Unrated, adult situations, alcohol is used and abused
Cast: Matt Walsh, Judith Godrèche, Michaela Watkins, Reid Scott, Dylan Gelula, david Wain and Gary Cole
Credits: Directed by Archie Borders, script by Archie Borders, David Henry and Judith Godrèche
An Orchard/Netflix release.
Running time: 1:27