Running time: 108 minutes. Rated R (graphic nudity, some sexual references and language). In theaters.
Owen Wilson bikes around an old European town at the start of the new movie “The French Dispatch.” Meanwhile, his director, Wes Anderson, is backpedaling big time.
After a stretch of dry, high style, low-soul movies in the aughts such as “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” and “The Darjeeling Limited,” Anderson again found his footing in the ’10s with the wondrous “Moonrise Kingdom” and the Best Picture Oscar nominee “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
Unfortunately, in the ’20s, he has reverted back to chipping at ponderous on-screen ice sculptures.
The film’s title references a New Yorker-like magazine in the fake city of Ennui-sur-Blasé, France (hon! hon! hon!). Its wise editor Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray) oversees a group of difficult, strong-minded, talented writers with pretentious names such as Herbsaint Sazerac (Wilson), J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton), Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) and Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright).
Nobody gives a memorable performance.
For the five readers who cherish movies about journalists, there are a couple decent jokes about these divas going over their word count and that sort of thing. Otherwise it’s not so much a paean to writers as it is a pain to witness.
Anderson’s film is told via a prologue and three episodes that bring to life the quirky publication’s stories. They just barely engage the audience as we watch the director’s entire mobile phone contact list show up for about 15 seconds each.
So many actors make cameos here that I’d forgotten Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe, Jason Schwartzman and Liev Schreiber were even in it until right now. The A-list orgy is emblematic of the movie’s complete lack of investment and cohesion in service of a Euro vibe.
The best vignette, “The Concrete Masterpiece,” is about an imprisoned artist (Benicio Del Toro) who becomes famous from the clink.
McDormand’s segment concerns a vague student revolution (not the “Les Miz” one) led by Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet) that’s in black and white for God only knows what reason. It is notable, however, for being the only likely time you’ll see Chalamet, 25, and McDormand, 64, ever in bed together post coitus.
The final, winding tale is about the kidnapped son of a police officer who is saved, in part, by a renowned chef. A cute gag is that its writer (Wright) can remember every sentence he’s ever typed.
We Wes fans (“The Royal Tenenbaums” is a film I believe everyone should see once in their life) have been aggressively pulled in many directions, great and terrible, by his indulgences over the years. And we’re still willing to go along for the ride.
But it’s high time he starts culling his ensemble. There’s no actual acting in his movies anymore.