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MOVIE REVIEW

Endearing 'Dr. Lewis' delivers laughs

In "Seducing Dr. Lewis," the residents of a struggling Canadian fishing village need a full-time local physician in order to get a factory built. So when they score a candidate, the whole town puts on an elaborate front to convince him that the village is worthy of his presence. The gist of this French-Canadian comedy doesn't sound very funny, but it often is. The endearing and cheeky ensemble works hard, and Ken Scott's script finds ways of wringing irreverence from the apparent good nature of the situation, flipping cynicism and urban snobbery on their heads by conjuring a romantic view of hamlet life.

Tired of collecting welfare checks, the grizzled, long-unemployed old men and women of the fishing village of St. Marie-La-Mauderne -- led by the mayor (Raymond Bouchard) -- send dozens of entreating fliers that are promptly laughed at, balled up, and tossed in the trash by the Montreal medical community. One physician reads the polite invitation to his friend, chuckles at its earnestness -- "Clean air, stability, family values!" -- then leans over and enjoys a line of cocaine.

That man is the handsome and affable Dr. Lewis (David Boutin), who's pulled over by a cop (a onetime resident of St. Marie) and busted for possession. Rather than arrest him, however, the cop bribes him with a monthlong trial as the doctor of St. Marie.

There the village residents conspire to tempt him with creature comforts and his favorite pastimes, including cricket, a sport that has the men in the town at an utter loss. The wives stitch uniforms nonetheless, and one resident attempts to create a playing field. Following rules found on the Internet, they proceed to fake a match as Dr. Lewis is ferried by. He can't believe it, so he begs to be taken to the game. And the 20 or so clueless players have to improvise.

In addition to feigning a love of cricket, the folks of St. Marie tap the doctor's phone and eavesdrop on the goings-on with his girlfriend, who's his last major tie to Montreal. And someone has to humor his love of jazz-fusion.

The movie tosses in glitches that require additional ruses, such as coming up with an extra hundred residents when an inspector turns up suspicious that the town might be too underpopulated to qualify for a factory.

The jig is up too soon and the apologies are too easily accepted, but the movie, directed by Jean-Francois Pouliot, has a quick-thinking, screwball exuberance that doesn't strain itself. And the lack of any real romantic development between Dr. Lewis and the postal clerk is my favorite development. "Seducing Dr. Lewis" seems positioned to evoke movies such as "Widows' Peak," "Saving Grace," and "Calendar Girls" -- those preciously eccentric English comedies that wash up here from time to time. But in St. Marie's despairing efforts to stay aloft, it's actually more like "The Full Monty" or the Bill Forsyth classic "Local Hero."

As the boondoggles mount, the film whips up a portrait of an antique town fighting for its relevance. Its founding industry is long gone, so the fisherman's way of life is purely vestigial, but it's St. Marie's sole identity. Even the town's cherubic bank manager verges on obsolescence, threatened to be replaced by an ATM.

"Seducing Dr. Lewis" doesn't wallow in its woes. It doesn't slap a happy face on things, either. Given the lived-in expressions on many of the actors' faces, easy living is one lie the movie can't tell.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com.

Seducing Dr. Lewis
Directed by: Jean-Francois Pouliot
Written by: Ken Scott
Starring: Raymond Bouchard, David Boutin, Benoit Briere, Pierre Collin, Lucie Laurier, Bruno Blanchet, Rita Lafontaine
At: Kendall Square, Embassy Cinema
Running time: 108 minutes
In French, with subtitles,
Unrated
***

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