Up at the Villa
How is it that a love story between two beautiful, disparate people thrown together by an unexpected disaster, set against the jaw-dropping background of pre-World War II Florence, Italy, can end up so utterly vacuous? Despite the intriguing pairing of sophisticated Brit beauty Kristin Scott Thomas and eternal bad boy Sean Penn, and support from grande dame Anne Bancroft and theater wizard Derek Jacobi, this tepid adaptation of Somerset Maugham's novella slumps dismally under the weight of a lackadaisical script by Belinda Haas and direction by her husband, Philip Haas (the team behind 1995's art-house hit Angels and Insects). English widow Mary Panton (Scott Thomas) drifts aimlessly in a loaned Florentine villa, wondering whether to accept the proposal of much older longtime friend Sir Edgar (James Fox). Invited to the inevitable stuffy party by gossipmonger Princess San Ferdinando (Bancroft), Mary meets married American playboy Rowley Flint (Penn, splendid as a modern-day Robert Mitchum, pulsing with a magnetic air of careless danger). Into this mix falls penniless Austrian refugee Karl Richter (Saving Private Ryan's Jeremy Davies), and Mary's problems begin. Bancroft--whose character is built up considerably from the book, as is Jacobi's--hams it up nonstop; Scott Thomas just looks politely bored, as true Euro-cineastes will be as well.