Review in a Hurry: Not bloody awful, but not magnifique either. Robert Pattinson plays a social-climbing scoundrel who seduces wealthy women in 1890s Paris. Twihards thirsting for a Pattinson fix might want to sink their teeth into this period costume drama. Hey, Bel Ami‘s actresses chew the scenery, so why not?
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The Bigger Picture: Ooh la la, the ladies are hot for Georges Duroy (Pattinson), who matches their bodice-ripping lust with his own insatiable desire for wealth and position. Sure, vampiric Pattinson cuts a striking figure in French formalwear, but he lacks the charisma and dramatic weightiness to anchor this shaky adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s novel.
After years of military service, Georges finds opportunity in Paris by wooing a small circle of affluent wives. Savvy Madeleine (Uma Thurman) helps Georges land a journalist job at an influential newspaper, though she refuses to be his mistress. Georges has no writing skills but advances to political editor, mostly by bedding the paper owner’s wife, Virginie (Kristin Scott Thomas).
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Clotilde (a lovely, vulnerable Christina Ricci) provides Georges with a swanky apartment so they can use it as a love nest. Georges ends that affair, however, when newly widowed Madeleine accepts his marriage proposal. Thanks to Madeleine’s political smarts, Georges breaks a major story at the paper, but when he learns of a related financial betrayal, he vows vengeance on his wife and others.
The flaccid script has difficulty mating all this bed-hopping and backstabbing, so the dangerous liaisons never feel dangerous enough. Pattinson glowers and sneers and flares his nostrils to little effect, unable to convey the angry desperation of a man who’ll stop at nothing to escape his impoverished background.
The actresses, perhaps attempting to compensate, occasionally push the drama to a soapy level. As a throaty Thurman rages at Georges, “You stupid, stupid man!” and Thomas acts like a clingy schoolgirl desperate for the lothario’s affections, you can’t help but wish Bel Ami had completely committed to trashy camp.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Mon dieu, there are worse ways to spend two hours than watching attractive actors cavort in stylish costumes and get naked.
PHOTOS: 2012 Summer Movie Guide—Date Nights