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Familiar-feeling film still charms

Brendan Gleeson and Taylor Kitsch in “The Grand Seduction.”
Brendan Gleeson and Taylor Kitsch in “The Grand Seduction.”

Small, remote town pulls every trick in the book to land itself a much-needed town doctor. The locals are always colorful and quirky; the new doc, a Big Medicine cynic.

Maybe he’s a New Yorker, as he was on TV’s “Northern Exposure.” Maybe he’s a would-be plastic surgeon, as he was in “Doc Hollywood.”

Or maybe he’s French Canadian, as he was in 2003’s “Seducing Doctor Lewis,” and its new remake, “The Grand Seduction.” It’s a formula comedy in which the formula works as well as it ever has, thanks largely to a winning cast and a heightened sexual twist to its “We need a doc to survive as a town” message.

Tickle Cove used to be an island fishing town where men had work and provided for their families, where men felt like men.

“Life was a thing of beauty,” narrates Murray French (Brendan Gleeson).

But now, the cod have gone, as have most of the young – off to “town,” nearby St. John’s. The men left behind collect unemployment checks and drink. There may be sex in the city, but not in Tickle Cove.

When the mayor skips town in the dark of night, Murray frets. When his wife takes a job in St. John’s, he is finally shaken from his lethargy. Insults from his pal, grizzled old Simon (Gordon Pinsent, sort of a Canadian Brendan Gleeson), are the final straw.

Murray takes the village by the horns to make one last ditch attempt to land a dubious “petrochemical byproduct reprocessing plant” (“What do they make? They make JOBS!”) that Big Oil needs to park somewhere – somewhere with enough people to work it, somewhere with a doctor.

Fortune smiles on them when fast-talking, newly licensed plastic surgeon Dr. Lewis (Taylor Kitsch) passes through the airport in St. John’s fresh from a Caribbean cricket match – he’s an enthusiast – with a baggie of cocaine. Security screening is what the old mayor of Tickle Cove is now doing for a living in St. John’s. A sneaky deal is struck – the doc will spend a month in Tickle Cove to avoid an arrest.

Ken Scott, who wrote “Seducing Doctor Lewis” and “Starbuck” (remade as “Delivery Man,” with Vince Vaughn), co-wrote this remake with Michael Dowse, and they flesh out the earlier French Canadian comedy with some edge – the whole sexual-inadequacy- of-unemployment thing, and the cocaine gimmick.

But where they really lucked out was with this cast. Gleeson was born for mischief and is a natural at leading a Tickle Cove-wide con job to trick the doctor into staying. They dress the town up – uprighting the toppled tombstones, fixing fences, painting. How do you explain that dilapidated house at the village entrance? A “World Heritage Site” sign in front will do.

Pinsent, best known for the Alzheimer’s drama “Away From Her” and TV’s “Republic of Doyle,” is a goofy delight. And Kitsch, playing a gullible city slicker, has never been more charming.

It’s all more twee than madcap, kind of a Canadian “Waking Ned Devine.” Not that it’s as funny as that, or as brisk. Don McKellar (“Last Night”) has directed a 90-minute movie buried inside a nearly two-hour-long one.

So “The Grand Seduction” is, like Tickle Cove itself, a bit of an oversell. But Gleeson, Pinsent and Kitsch make this a diverting comic travelogue for anybody who misses “Northern Exposure” but has no intention of moving to Alaska (or in this case, Newfoundland).