He’s a vampire of a different sort now: Twilight star Robert Pattinson brings his captivatingly mangy broodiness to a dull, dutiful adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s novel about Parisian social climber Georges Duroy, nicknamed Bel Ami. When we first meet him, he’s the embodiment of destitution, with tattered clothes, days-old scruff and three francs to his name. Then Duroy pays a fateful visit to a red-light establishment, where he runs into an old army acquaintance. Faster than you can say bonne chance, this grungy status seeker is granted access to several upper-class salons, where he meets the women—Clotilde (Christina Ricci), Madeleine (Uma Thurman) and Virginie (Kristen Scott Thomas)—who will become his mistresses-cum-stepping-stones.
Duroy callously round-robins his way among the ladies, going so far as to eject one of his paramours from his “love nest” while preparing for the arrival of another. Yet the satire rarely stings, as first-time feature directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod give a polite Masterpiece Theatre gloss to this most impolite of tales. Scenes accumulate in vague CliffsNotes fashion (Duroy’s near-sadomasochistic relationship with Thurman’s high-class widow is meant to be revealingly caustic, but merely comes off as improbable), and the performers tend to indulge their worst instincts, as in a camptastic sequence in which Thomas’s emotionally fragile middle-ager dons a midnight-black gown for a wedding. De Maupassant’s story was subtitled “The History of a Scoundrel”; this is more like “The Summary of a Scamp.”
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