Before we even get a look at Rose (Juliette Binoche) -- a hairdresser fleeing a 12-year relationship with a macho jerk -- she confesses, in narration, that she dreams of experiencing "a whole day when my life would be like an American movie." She eventually gets tangled up with Felix (Jean Reno) -- a neurotic restaurateur and businessman, about to launch a line of gourmet frozen foods -- who now lives in America, and who says of his native land, "Nothing works in this country. They're overtaxed, underemployed and at war -- and they go on vacation."
And so we're in for a little family squabble as director Danièle Thomson, who co-wrote Jet Lag with her son, Christopher, gives the American romantic-comedy a big French kiss and takes some prickly potshots at her countrymen. Her movie is concise (a mere 90 minutes), unimaginative and sporadically amusing, with Reno unusually dour, even for him, and with Binoche more spirited and enjoyable than her familiar placid presence in English-language movies, like Chocolat and The English Patient.
Honestly, though: If Jet Lag were any more benign, it would be a skin tag. The characters have just enough substance to qualify as superficial, and their dialogue seems to lose its nuance in the translation. You sense this project got the green light only when two box-office stars attached themselves to it. (For those of you who still read books, that's Hollywood lingo.)
Thompson has the three-act structure of her screenplay timed to the minute: 1/3 setup, 1/3 conflict, 1/3 denouement. She seems so eager to get Jet Lag over with that the only dramatic obstacle standing in the lovers' way is a cell phone, which rings at inappropriate times, with inappropriate people on the other end (for example, Felix's ex-lover, with whom he still may be in love). In fact, Rose and Felix meet because of technology, after a flustered Rose flushes her own phone down the toilet and asks a stranger (Felix) if she can use his.
The closing titles for Jet Lag include a veal recipe that Felix cooks for Rose in a hotel kitchen after their bland room-service meal goes largely uneaten. It's a nice little scene, this cooking excursion, but only because it involves cuisine, one of the two things we expect from a French movie. The other thing we expect feels oddly neutered, as if, when it comes to sex, these characters are American, not French. This is the country that invented the mistress, and yet here we have two French people nervous about spending a night in a hotel room together, as if they're Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. No wonder the French fear American culture. In French, with subtitles.