The long-running Merchant-Ivory brand of civilized cinema found quietus four years after producer Ismail Merchant died; four years before house-scripter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala died and two years after director James Ivory finished production and found token distribution for this stillborn pic. It’s the wan story of an untenured Prof who bumbles his way to the Uruguayan estate of a deceased author he has a grant to bio. Cultivating consent from surviving wife Laura Linney, mistress (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother (Anthony Hopkins) turns out to be only half the battle; maintaining interest may be just as hard in spite of (or is it because of?) blunt prompting from his career-oriented g’friend. Some handsome location shooting and messy interdependent personal relationships should provide a reasonably involving literary stroll, but no one behaves like a recognizable human being. Actions, motivations, dialogue, all coming off as forced or idiotic, with the tone of a bad British translation of Chekhov from the ‘50s. Hopkins, playing the dead writer’s world-weary gay older brother, manages to create a character with his usual quirky agogic speaking rhythms. Everyone else sinks. Though none more so than Omar Metwally as the absent-minded Prof, spectacularly inadequate as an object of desire with a doe-like self-regarding manner that curdles as you watch.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: A telling moment in the Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala ROOM WITH A VIEW/’85 finds Maggie Smith & Judi Dench lost on tour in Italy. ‘Throw away your Baedeker,’ suggests adventurous Dench to timid Smith. Figuratively, that’s just what these filmmakers did in their best pics.