"Chocolat" is so overly sweet it will stick to the roof of your mouth until you wash it down with an acidic dose of reality.
Too bad, too, because the film features a concoction of award-winning actors who are asked to give little in return for a script as gooey as it gets.
Directed by Lasse "The Cider House Rules" Hallstrom, "Chocolat" pits the forces of pleasure against the gates of religious piety, as viewed from the highlands of rural, out-of-the-way France.
From the outset, there's never any doubt which side is going to prevail in this classic tug-of-war, in light of the stereotypical characters that emerge for the audience.
Pleasure, of course, arrives in the form of chocolate maker Vianne, played by French beauty Juliette Binoche, a best actress winner for 1997's "The English Patient."
She quickly emerges as the object of scorn for the town's purveyor of righteousness Comte de Raynaud (Alfred Molina), who holds sway over his fellow villagers, including the local priest (Hugh O'Connor).
But a handful of townspeople -- all of whom harbor secret resentments against authority for one predictable reason or another -- gather around the chocolatier, sampling her wares with fantastic results.
Judi Dench, another Academy Award winner, plays Armande, an aging, sickly woman separated from her daughter and grandchild by her own cantankerousness who is eventually softened by the taste of hot chocolate.
Another confection seems to work like Viagra for one couple, and its magical ingredients convince an old man to confess his long-suppressed love for a neighboring widow. Yawn!
Johnny Depp makes a brief and uninspired appearance as Roux, a "river rat" who momentarily replaces Vianne as the object of the town's contempt for anything different from themselves.
As expected, romance blooms between the outcasts, but it has little to do with the outcome of the film. Expect a happy ending as brittle and waxy as a Hershey's bar.
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