‘Austenland’ concept’s funny; approach is slack

The premise sounds ripe for the Christopher Guest comedy troupe: Let’s follow a naïve young woman on her dream vacation to an immersive, role-playing theme park that brings alive the world of Jane Austen novels. Here be proud young men and haughty dowagers, and drawing rooms with tea: a Comicon for BBC addicts.

But Guest isn’t doing these kinds of projects anymore, and the actual execution of “Austenland” falls along much more conventional lines. Our heroine is Jane (the role’s a blank, but Keri Russell does her best with it), whose life-size cardboard cut-out of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy just isn’t enough to fill out the “Pride and Prejudice” fantasy.

She arrives at Austenland at the same time as a rich lady called Elizabeth Charming — the visitors all get vaguely Austenish names — played by the irrepressible Jennifer Coolidge. I am grateful nobody repressed Coolidge, because her blowsy vocal delivery and unfiltered one-liners give “Austenland” its main source of oomph.

Once she begins mingling with the hired role-players, Jane is vaguely torn between Darcy-like Mr. Nobley (J.J. Feild) and roughhewn stablehand Martin (Bret McKenzie, of Flight of the Conchords), but the film is too slack to generate even the rudimentary suspense that comedy needs.

I did laugh, mostly at Coolidge (a veteran of the Christopher Guest company, as it happens) and the spectacle of Austenland’s puffy-sleeve actors relaxing in their downtime. But overall the movie disappoints, and even the topic of fiction fans who take their enthusiasm a little too seriously, as crystallized in the immortal words of William Shatner to the Trekkie faithful — “Get a life” — is only mildly touched on.

“Austenland” is adapted from a novel by Shannon Hale and directed by Jerusha Hess, making her helming debut after co-writing her husband Jared’s films “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Gentlemen Broncos.” A comparison is instructive: The crisp comic timing and sharply composed frames of “Napoleon Dynamite” have a lot to do with why that film is regularly hilarious, and the casual rhythm and loose visuals of Austenland are partly to blame for the movie’s inability to land all its punches.

A useful concept and a game cast aren’t enough to make classic comedy, even if you’re deploying Jennifer Coolidge in full loudmouth mode.

“Austenland” (2½ stars)

A nerdy fan (Keri Russell) of Jane Austen’s novels travels to a role-playing theme park based on the world of “Pride and Prejudice.” There are some laughs here, mostly from blowsy tourist Jennifer Coolidge, but the movie’s a little too slack to really make its comic idea come to life.

Rated: PG-13 for subject matter.

Showing: Guild 45th, Pacific Place.

More in Life

Mukilteo’s Hani Hani scores with the police chief

The Japanese restaurant serves dishes (poke, ramen, grill) inspired by the Hawaiian islands.

‘Coco’ is another eye-popping home run for Pixar/Disney

The animated movie’s a lively, touching tale of honoring family, following dreams.

Beer of the Week: Scuttlebutt’s Barrel-aged Belgian Winter

Made in 2013, the dark strong ale was stowed away in barrels. The brewery tests one each year.

‘Love, Chaos and Dinner’ an Teatro ZinZanni’s original show

The “Parsian cabaret” is a superb circus dinner theater operation in Marymoor Park through April 29.

Heavy Hollywood headlines: Robert Horton’s movies preview

In the midst of all the sexual-misconduct allegations, the holiday film season offers some relief.

Denzel Washington’s remarkable performance isn’t helped by plot

The actor is convincing as an awkward, eccentric lawyer, but unconvincing contrivances pile up.

‘The Breadwinner’ animation is strong, but its story is stilted

The Cartoon Saloon film never lets you forget that you’re here to learn an important lesson.

Pianist Kaitlyn Gia Lee, 10, of Mill Creek, will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major on Nov. 26 with the Everett Philharmonic Orchestra.
Young pianist to perform Mozart with Everett Philharmonic

Kaitlyn Gia Lee, 10, of Mill Creek, will play the piano at the Music for the Imagination concert.

Liz Oyama as Belle, Jimmi Cook as Gaston and John Han as Lefou star in the Edmonds Driftwood Players production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” opening Nov. 24. Magic Photo
In Driftwood’s ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ Belle has girl-power bend

Edmonds Driftwood Players presents Disney’s adaptation of the fair tale Nov. 24 through Dec. 17.

Most Read