James Ivory offers tepid, superficial 'Destination' 

Literary cinema, that ailing but still viable and sometimes superb species of big-screen pleasure, deserves better than “The City of Your Final Destination,” director James Ivory’s new dramedy of manners and awakenings.

Like many movies by Ivory — best known as half of the late Merchant-Ivory duo, whose prestige-dripping but uneven catalog includes adaptations from “Howard’s End” to “Le Divorce” — the film contains impressive art direction but superficially drawn characters and stodgy action.

The dramatic shortcomings keep it from being the emotionally textured, narratively sweeping, richly verbal moviemaking it aims to be.

Adapted by longtime Ivory screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala from Peter Cameron’s novel, the film suggests a Chekhov comedy with its life-goes-on rhythms, while also containing a drop of Tennessee Williams swelter and shades of the E.M. Forster classiness that has distinguished Ivory’s better work (“Howard’s End,” “A Room With a View,” “Maurice”).

The plot is in the familiar vein of stories in which an outsider shakes up a stagnating household. Omar (Omar Metwally), a Colorado-based academic writing a biography of a deceased novelist named Jules Gund, travels to Uruguay in hopes of persuading Gund’s estate executors to grant authorization for the book. Navigating the family morass, he finds an opponent in Gund’s sharp-tongued, secret-keeping widow, Caroline (Laura Linney), and an ally in Gund’s cordial brother, Adam (Anthony Hopkins), who lives with his lover, Pete (Hiroyuki Sanada).

Gund’s mistress, Arden (Charlotte Gainsbourg), emerges as both swing vote and love interest.

A smuggling scheme, a bee sting and the arrival of Omar’s strong-willed girlfriend, Deirdre (Alexandra Maria Lara), complicate things.

Neither an ace navigator nor a profound storyteller, Ivory fares best when working with thematically evocative, actor-friendly source period material. Here, unfortunately, working from a hit-and-miss screenplay, he serves up dramatics that are too superficial and stilted to create multidimensional characters that  resonate.

Casting ranges from problematic to lifesaving. The personal-journey element suffers from the blandness of Metwally’s Omar, who begins as a blank slate and, even after treading the family “swamp,” never registers differently.

Hopkins and Linney, conversely, provide stellar moments that keep things afloat.

Hopkins’ Adam, who is the closest thing the film gets to achieving its Chekhov aspirations, is a constantly intriguing mix of wryness, resignation and calculation. Linney, stirringly multifaceted, makes the betrayed, confined Caroline blistering, cutting and affectingly human in her unhappiness.


The City of Your Final Destination

Two stars

Starring Omar Metwally, Laura Linney, Anthony Hopkins, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Directed by James Ivory
Rated PG-13
Running time 1 hour 58 minutes

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