Welcome to Tickle Head, population 120. Kindly fall in love with this Newfoundland harbor town and its offbeat citizens. Such is the ambition of The Grand Seduction, which wants to be the kind of film that glides on the eccentricities of imperfect but endearing inhabitants who all know and occasionally press each other's buttons to comical effect. The ambition is familiar, but the steps the movie takes to reach its intended destination are puzzling and off-putting. What else but a failure to see the trees for the forest could explain a film that expects us to root for an intermittently hardscrabble people who think nothing of bribing an oil company with cash and a promise of no taxes so it will build a petrochemical facility overlooking their bit of ocean?
In this suffering working-class seaside town, most have to stand in line to pick up their welfare checks, and nobody’s getting laid because nobody’s bringing home the bacon. The mayor is trying to entice that oil company to open a factory on Tickle Head's shores, but there's a catch. The company will only do so if the town meets a certain population and has a doctor. Enter Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights, John Carter) as Tickle Head's temporary physician, a role he accepts in order to stay out jail.
To convince him to become a permanent resident and to also get their factory, the folks at Tickle Head, led by a lifelong denizen (Brendan Gleeson), take measures to make their tiny town too irresistible to leave. So they clean up their beach, roll out the welcome mat, and try to flatter the doctor by pretending to be devoted to his favorite sport, cricket. They also eavesdrop on his phone calls and fake their population while entertaining the oil bigwigs by rushing people from one building to another.
We’ve seen this before — the ruse of trying to seduce audiences with oddballs, oddities and quaint charms. And there's the meta in the title revealed, the grand seduction ending with our embrace of a captivating film. Except the schemes are so ridiculous, so off-putting, you’ll wish the good doctor would pack up his stuff and head to greener pastures. Which would be just about anywhere else. You have to wonder if maybe the folks at Tickle Head would have a better economy if they put the same effort into finding work as they do trying to pull off this offensive charade.
2.5 out of 5 stars.
Rated PG-13. Directed by Don McKellar. Starring Brendan Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Gordon Pinsent, Mark Critch and Liane Balaban. Opens Fri., July 18 at Tampa Theatre.