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'The Benefactor' is rich in character, poor in story

 'The Benefactor' is rich in character, poor in story
Richard Gere in "The Benefactor." (Samuel Goldwyn Films)

The title character of "The Benefactor" is a poor little gazillionaire, troubled and isolated, his hard-driving brand of charm so aggressive that it's cringe-inducing. It's the sort of showcase role that's all too obviously designed to attract name talent to a debut screenplay. Richard Gere obliges, digging in with intentionally discomforting gusto as a man who devours the oxygen in the room — and the movie.

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The fault lies less with the actor than with writer-director Andrew Renzi's script, essentially a character study in search of a story. What begins as an intriguing psychological thriller devolves into an addiction drama, growing less interesting as it proceeds and giving costars Dakota Fanning and Theo James little to do.

Gere plays Franny, a philanthropist and luxury-suite hermit who's shaken back to life after his best friends' daughter, Olivia (Fanning), returns to Philadelphia. Newly married and pregnant, she asks him to help her doctor husband, Luke (James), secure a job. He does that and more, his fiscal generosity as intrusive as his unsettling bursts of affection. For different reasons, Olivia and Franny are haunted by guilt connected to her parents' death, a key reason she's more willing than Luke to put up with him.

Fanning's ability to infuse a single glance with fathoms of ambivalence enriches the early scenes. But her character is quickly sidelined, left to beam like a Madonna until she has to deliver an intervention spiel composed entirely of clichés.

There are jabs at commentary on the corrosive power of wealth, but like James' and Fanning's characters, they don't stand a chance in this clumsy dramatic mix.

"The Benefactor."

No MPAA rating.

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles.

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