‘Austenland’ offers cheap laughs but a decent Keri Russell

James Callis, Jennifer Coolidge, Bret McKenzie and Keri Russell try out old-timey weaponry in "Austenland." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics
James Callis, Jennifer Coolidge, Bret McKenzie and Keri Russell try out old-timey weaponry in “Austenland.”
Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Director: Jerusha Hess
Stars: Keri Russell, Jennifer Coolidge
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

Jane Austenheads are easy targets, which is probably what attracted filmmaker Jerusha Hess. Her previous work, directed by her husband Jared, has been “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Nacho Libre” and “Gentlemen Broncos,” films that take semi-loving potshots at subjects (Midwesterners, Mexican wrestlers, fantasy novelists) that provide cheap laughs. In “Austenland,” Keri Russell plays Jane, a dateless thirtysomething unhealthily in thrall to Fitzwilliam Darcy — or at least Colin Firth’s wet-shirted incarnation of him in the 1995 BBC version of “Pride and Prejudice.” She has a life-size cutout of Firth in her Austen-packed apartment, because of course she does.

When she hears of a resort in the English countryside that simulates the Austen experience, complete with tight corsets and furtive, contact-less courtship, she hops to it. There, she finds an undermining countess/owner (Jane Seymour) who pronounces “aficionado” the fancy way, a reliably disinterested Darcy type (JJ Feild) and a dreamy stable boy (Bret McKenzie) who’s prone to break the “no touching” policy.

What proceeds are simple jokes, in particular any of those including Jennifer Coolidge as a fellow patron whose vulgar routine goes from somewhat amusing to enervating then back and forth for the remainder of the film. There’s an obviously gay “suitor” (James Callis), who tries not to recoil at Coolidge’s lusty advances. What there aren’t are a lot of Austen-specific jokes.

It’s clear that Hess has read “Pride and Prejudice” — or at least seen one of the movies — as Jane winds up having very nearly the same reaction to Feild’s Darcy-esque actor: revulsion at his bad attitude, then slow thawing as he proves unexpectedly strapping. But Jane winds up too quickly souring on her trip for any real fun to be had. Almost immediately she grows weary of the refined chitchat and piano interludes, and nips off for dalliances with McKenzie’s smooth stableboy.

Somewhere in the film is a fairly savage satire about being defined and entrapped by our cultural intake. But so-so gags, repeated ad nauseum, rule the day. Only Russell escapes alive. Where everyone else is a broad caricature, she oozes real humanity. She starts as a stereotype of stunted adolescence, disappointed that modern life barely resembles two centuries hence, but soon reveals a more levelheaded persona — albeit one who still giggles uninhibitedly when forward men in tight attire work their way up her arm. Thanks to her, “Austenland” occasionally has a human pulse.


OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…


Mets mascot Mr. Met target of Bill Clinton…

Mets mascot Mr. Met has told how he ended up in the crosshairs of a Secret Service sniper rifle. The man behind the Mr. Met…


Oval oasis: Summer of fun kicks off this…

A bold partnership between the Fairmount Park Conservancy and the city's Parks and Recreation Department is kicking off this weekend with family activities re-activating this unused public space.


African couple claiming misidentification in robbery case to…

At a bail hearing today for Vickson and Lorfu Korlewala, charged in the robbery of an 80-year-old woman, bail was reduced from $1 million total to $500,000.


'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…


Review: 'Transcendence' is not stupid but sometimes lacks…

The cyberthriller "Transcendence" explores artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and other ethical quandaries, but has too much ambition, if anything.


Dick Wolf to bring fictionalized world of 'Law…

A&E has ordered a pilot called "D.O.A." from "Law and Order" mastermind Dick Wolf that will focus on real detectives reexamining cold cases. A trio…


Shane West talks WGN America's 'Salem'

The actor on history lessons, a new network and showing his butt.


Rangers draw first blood against Flyers in Game…

Brad Richards and Derek Stepan scored power-play goals 47 seconds apart to lead the Rangers to a 4-1 win.


Jimmy Rollins is key to Phillies success

When John Kruk was asked about what the Phillies need to contend for a playoff berth, the ESPN analyst said Jimmy Rollins needs to play like a MVP again.


Ben Revere lifts Phillies to avoid sweep

Ben Revere came through with a two-out RBI single against Atlanta’s tough lefthander Alex Wood.


Season wrap: 76ers make the grade

The 76ers opened the 2013-14 season with a victory over the Miami Heat. The Sixers closed the season with a win at Miami.


Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.


Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.


Earth Day travel in the Florida Keys

See why this eco-friendly destination deserves your attention.


Sorry, Facebook — FarmVille goes mobile with 'Country…

Zynga has released a version of the hit "FarmVille" tailored for smartphones and tablets in the hope of reaping a bumper crop of players.