Droll is the word for Whit Stillman, writer-director of "Metropolitan" a couple of years ago and now the new romantic comedy "Barcelona."
Stillman has been called a WASP Woody Allen, and it's an appropriate comparison since his films are high on intelligent, witty dialogue and cross-talk. "Barcelona" does manage to include an explosion and some gunplay before it's over, however.Set in Spain in the early '80s, "Barcelona" is a romantic comedy about two disparate characters who are tied together by blood but have little else in common.
Ted (Taylor Nichols) is a quiet and shy office worker in the Barcelona branch of a Chicago-based outboard motor company. His cousin Fred (Chris Eigeman) is a U.S. Navy officer, the advance man for the arrival of the Navy's 6th Fleet.
They are foreigners in a country that is brimming with anti-American sentiment, and though they are pseudo-intellectuals who pretend to understand what's going on around them, in actuality neither has a clue.
Fortunately, the politics generally remain in the background. The best moments here come from the bubbly dialogue that brews as naive Fred plays games with even more naive Ted, while both try to meet women.
In effect, Ted becomes the victim of Fred's mean-spirited but very funny practical jokes. And they do manage to take up with a pair of gorgeous local women (Tushka Bergen, Mira Sorvino) who accept them despite the prevalence of anti-Yankee feelings in the area.
Stillman loves wordplay, and he has his actors read the lines with a flat, unemotional delivery that underscores the humor, and which seems to build to a comic crescendo as the film progresses.
All of the actors are good but there's no question that Chris Eigeman steals the show (he reminded me of a young Charles Grodin, with a faster line delivery). He gets the best, albeit most sarcastic punchlines, as in the film's single funniest moment, when Eigeman and Sorvino walk in on Nichols as he is reading the Bible while dancing wildly to "Pennsylvania 6-5000."
This isn't for everyone, to be sure, but those who enjoy literate, witty movies over shoot-'em-up, blow-'em-up fare should find much to savor.
"Barcelona" is rated PG-13 for violence, sex, partial nudity, profanity and some drug usage.