It’s strange that The Girl From Monaco is being billed as a comic thriller, since it’s neither particularly funny nor notably thrilling. It vacillates randomly from a jaunty sex comedy to a darker tale of obsession and manipulation, with the phrase “impending doom” practically stamped on its suntanned forehead. The result is a movie that, while sometimes entertaining and always nice to look at, never really manages to elicit laughter or build suspense. It meanders aimlessly from its promising opening to its disappointing finish, never bothering to give us a reason to care about anything that happens along the way.
Veteran French actor Fabrice Luchini stars as Bertrand Beauvois, an ace attorney hired to defend a wealthy Monaco woman accused of murdering her Russian boy toy. Édith Lassalle (Stéphane Audran) isn’t going to make it easy for him; she’s a decidedly unsympathetic defendant, and won’t cooperate with any of Beauvois’ attempts to present her to the court in a more favorable light. Fearing retaliation from the erstwhile gigolo’s brothers, Edith’s son (Gilles Cohen) hires surly bodyguard Christophe Abadi (Roschdy Zem) to shadow the attorney everywhere he goes.
The constant babysitting isn’t much more than an annoyance to Beauvois until a young woman named Audrey Varella (Louise Bourgoin) shows up and takes a shine to the lawyer. What she sees in him is anyone’s guess. He’s mild-mannered, introspective, and plain, while the reality-TV-star-cum-weather girl is sexy, volatile, and apparently dumber than a head of lettuce.
What Beauvois sees in Audrey, though, is less of a puzzle. She might be obsessed with celebrity pets and dead princesses and spout goofy new-age gibberish, but she has other qualities the esteemed barrister finds irresistible. It isn’t long before he’s blowing off trial work in favor of extended romps in Audrey’s obnoxiously decorated boudoir, only to be stung and humiliated when she allows herself to be passed around like a party favor among her friends. It’s also clear that she has a history with Beauvois’ bodyguard, and neither is happy to be back in the other’s life. Christophe is torn between his loyalty to Beauvois and conflicted feelings for Audrey. He is attracted to her even as he despises her, and fervently warns Beauvois to stay away from her.
So, is Audrey genuinely infatuated with the lawyer, or does she have a decidedly darker motivation for diverting so much of his time and attention? Unfortunately, though director and co-writer Anne Fontaine imbues the tale with enough ambiguity to keep it from being entirely predictable, it’s hard to care much about who’s going to do what to whom and why. There’s a red herring thrown in to suggest the threat of violence, but it’s a little too obvious to work. The movie’s ending is plainly telegraphed far ahead of its arrival, and not even the obligatory ironic twist has much of an impact.
The movie’s saving graces are its performances and its beautiful setting, but they aren’t enough to carry the film. All three principals are far more engaging than the characters they portray; it’s too bad they weren’t given meatier roles. Though Luchini is the movie’s star and best-known name, he is frequently upstaged by the darkly handsome and appropriately enigmatic Zem, whose character is by far the most interesting of the three. As for the principality that provides a backdrop for the often tawdry story, it would be hard to film a movie in Monaco and have it turn out anything but gorgeous, but Fontaine cleverly evokes a sense of place that can be simultaneously glamorous and seedy, inviting and foreboding. (If you ever feel compelled to commit a crime, do it in Monaco. Apparently even its prisons have gorgeous seaside views and aerobics classes.)
The Girl From Monaco never makes up its mind what it wants to be, and it never invites any sort of emotional investment on the viewer’s behalf. The frequent and jarring tonal shifts make it impossible to settle into any sort of engagement with the film, and the characters are neither despicable nor particularly likeable enough to make their fates all that interesting. It offers a promising set-up, and might have worked if the filmmakers had chosen a genre and stuck with it. Instead, it constantly jumps from sex comedy to film noir and back again, and loses all of its energy and focus along the way.