Nothing to Crowe about

“A Good Year”Fox 2000 PicturesDirected by Ridley ScottScreenplay by Marc Klein, based on the novel by Peter MayleStarring: Russell Crowe, Albert Finney, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hollander, Freddie Highmore, Abbie Cornish and Didier BourdonRated PG-13/118 minutesOpened Nov. 10, 2006Two-and-a-half out of four stars

Come on, Ridley Scott — you’re not even trying anymore. You’ve carved an entire career out of epic scales and grand ambitions, and now you offer us such facile, pedestrian fare as “A Good Year?” The good old “greedy bastard discovers the true meaning of life, love and happiness” routine? Really?

Come now, Ridley — you can do much better than that.

And much worse. And frankly, I think I’d prefer the latter to the vanilla mediocrity of “A Good Year.” Penny Marshall could have directed this.

Ridley Scott, who most of us confidently consider the talented Scott brother, has gone in a new direction with this film — which could be admirable in the right circumstances. But it’s just that it’s so damn safe. It feels as if he didn’t even have to expend any energy making it. This kind of movie practically makes itself.

The director has had a decidedly hit-or-miss career, but the one thing you can’t say is that he doesn’t think big. He’s a filmmaker who takes chances, who challenges himself, who throws caution to the wind.

Sometimes the results are excellent (“Alien,” “Gladiator,” “Thelma and Louise,” “Black Hawk Down”). Sometimes they influence a generation of filmmakers (“Blade Runner”). Sometimes, he falls on his face (“Kingdom of Heaven,” “1492: Conquest of Paradise”).

But with “A Good Year,” he offers himself no real challenge.

Working with Scott for the second time, Russell Crowe slips comfortably into the role of callous London power broker Max Skinner, the workaholic kind that never takes a holiday and holds complete sway over his high-rise office of “lab rats.”

One day, news comes that his long-lost Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) — with whom he spent his summers as a child — has passed away, and Max has inherited his uncle’s chateau, complete with a vineyard.

He hasn’t spoken to his uncle in more than a decade, but not because he didn’t love him; as Max himself puts it, “It’s probably got something to do with me becoming an a**hole.”

As such, he intends to sell the property, make a few million quid and then return to his decadent London lifestyle. But when he actually goes to visit the chateau, he begins to remember and relive all those special memories from his boyhood and (all together now) realizes what’s truly important in life. There’s even a half-assed romantic angle thrown in for good measure. He has a few laughs, sees a few old friends and succumbs to the French atmosphere that he loves so dearly.

All of the proceedings, of course, are very precious and quaint. The movie really, really, really wants to be liked, so it turns on the cute the minute Max arrives at his old second home. I know what you’re thinking: A little French dog probably pees on his leg, right?

Of course it does.

Max’s transition from buttoned-down mercenary to reflective, sensitive bloke is seamless — and thus not very believable. All this change in his character happens in a few days?

Not in this world.

Crowe, though, happens to be a good enough actor that he almost makes it work.

It’s not that “A Good Year” is a bad movie, per se. It’s that it’s just so content in its own mediocrity. It goes down easily — but that doesn’t mean it’s satisfying. I’m sure there’s some wine metaphor to be made here — perhaps “A Good Year” is a merlot or something — but I don’t know anything about wine.

Of all the films Ridley Scott has made, this is far from his worst. But it will also be forgotten long before any of his biggest failures.

“Oh, wallagans! I seem to have fallen into a tributary whilst hitting the shuttlecock. How dreadfully embarrassing.” Russell Crowe gets wet in “A Good Year.”