Someday, somebody should do a film series of movies set at country houses; when you put a group of people in the same isolated place for a weekend or longer, dramatic things are bound to happen.
That’s part of the appeal of the otherwise uneven “City of Your Final Destination,” which takes place at an estate in Uruguay. Omar, a grad student (Omar Metwally), has traveled there to research the authorized biography of a writer who committed suicide at the place.
Only problem is, Omar does not yet have authorization. The writer’s survivors have formally turned down his request. They can’t very well leave him standing at the doorway when he arrives with his suitcase, however, so they invite him to stay for a few days.
It’s an eccentric household. The widow (Laura Linney) is there, as is the dead man’s brother (Anthony Hopkins), who shares a cottage with his longtime companion (Hiroyuki Sanada).
But there’s also the writer’s mistress (Charlotte Gainsbourg, late of “Antichrist”) and their young daughter. For some reason everybody seems to get along — as they inherited equal shares of the estate, perhaps they have to.
During his stay, Omar will attempt to secure the right to the biography — but of course other things will happen, too.
Unfortunately these other things are never quite interesting enough to push the film into any kind of urgency, and director James Ivory’s approach is so soft it almost kills whatever plot momentum the story has (it’s based on a novel by Peter Cameron).
This being a Merchant Ivory production, the focus is on well-spoken people turning phrases in well-appointed interiors. The Merchant Ivory team (Ivory, now-deceased producer Ismail Merchant and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala) had its best run in the age of “A Room With a View” and “Howards End,” and the new one displays a sense of exhaustion about it.
It looks handsome, with sultry South American locations, and the cast is offbeat. But Ivory must be held accountable for the tepid Metwally, who doesn’t leave much of an impression in the central role, and for allowing Anthony Hopkins to indulge himself.
Linney lets off a few sour-lemon one-liners, and Norma Aleandro has a couple of grandstanding scenes as a local social diva. The movie’s closest thing to a villain — and in some ways its most intriguing character — is Omar’s pushy girlfriend, played by Alexandra Maria Lara. But nobody has much of a chance to come to life in these circumstances.
Nice house, though. There’s the real star of “City of Your Final Destination,” no matter who gets billed above the title.