Robert Pattinson has seemed a very likable actor, not because of the anemic charisma he displays in those "Twilight" movies, but because he seems to harbor both a healthy skepticism about teenage vampires and the not-unreasonable knowledge that they might be useful for an actor hungering to make more intelligent movies.
However: If he thinks those movies include "Bel Ami," the entire diagnosis should be reassessed. In this lushly decorated melodrama based on Guy de Maupassant's 19th century novel of bad behavior, Pattinson exhibits few of the tools necessary to make the story's manipulative protagonist a complex, rather than a merely petulant, character. He's an ex-soldier desperate for money and power, ruthless in his manipulation of well-placed women, and contemptuous of the very people with whom he wishes to dwell. Pattinson's passion is bloodless, his rakish George Duroy a font of undelivered potential.
But it's not all his fault, either. Adapted by the fledgling Rachel Bennette and directed by theater vets Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, "Bel Ami" presented the filmmakers with a rat's nest of difficult choices, including how to boil down a 400-page novel to a manageable motion picture.
The outcome of all this is on Pattinson's shoulders, which may be why the subordinate performers come off so much better than he. Christina Ricci, increasingly foxlike as she matures, is a wily Clotilde, who knows whence George's impulses spring; Uma Thurman, as the woman who gives George his first leg up into French journalism, exhibits an affecting delicacy. But Kristin Scott Thomas, that paragon of screen intelligence, is badly miscast as one of George's various objectives, a woman who is simply far too naive, especially for someone being played by Kristin Scott Thomas.
PLOT Hungry young scoundrel seduces his way up the social ladder of 19th century Parisian society. Unrated
PLAYING AT Sag Harbor Cinema
BOTTOM LINE Robert Pattinson is close to inert in this sumptuously appointed but dramatically undernourished adaptation of Guy de Maupassant's novel.