Two brothers--a spoiled, neurotic Kansan and his adopted African-American sibling--travel to a French chateau they have inherited, only to learn that it's decrepit and that the French are a funny people with a language that's a real nuisance to them.
Graham Granville is a highly neurotic, jerky nerd from Kansas who journeys with his hip Los Angeles-based brother Allen (aka Rex) to the rundown French chateau they have both inherited from a long-lost French relative. While Allen is much more together than his klutzy bro, neither bonds comfortably with any of the help who remain at the chateau. These include Isabelle, the maid with a secret, and Jean, the elderly servant with a secret. The brothers break the servants' hearts with news that they have decided to sell the dilapidated castle, but Graham impulsively assures them that their positions will be included in the sale as a package. Business-savvy Allen, who has learned the fine art of making a profit by running a sex-oriented Web site, is eager to find a buyer. A coarse American party animal arrives on the scene to buy, but Graham hasn't the heart to unload on such a creep. Mercenary instincts are further waylaid when the brothers confront revelations about some of the downstairs staff who have a more personal stake in the fate of the chateau.
Depending on one's tolerance for jerks, Paul Rudd as heir Graham Granville will either charm or annoy to death. Romany Malco as brother Allen/Rex has great charisma, and like Rudd, is a fine and confident actor who will one day rise to the occasion when it presents itself. In supporting roles, French stars Sylvie Testud as Isabelle the maid and Didier Flamand as Jean are more than adequate, although neither is afforded the opportunity to chew up the ragged scenery. Donal Logue as a crass party-boy American who may buy the chateau amuses as France's worst nightmare of the loud-mouthed Yank with plenty of bucks but no style.
First-timer Jesse Peretz, who directs from his own idea, doesn't embarrass with his debut. Nor does he show unassailable promise. He lets The Chateau smack ever so subtly as a vanity project and suggests there's more self-indulgence than intelligence behind this sloppy, goofy but well-meaning effort. Still, Peretz, daring to do the ridiculous, comes up with an original. Like the chateau, the film is a sight for sore eyes but has enough bright moments to spark mild interest. The often grainy digital visuals and improvisational style mesh perfectly with its let's-just-have-fun-and-amuse spirit. Videophiles may want to check out how the film manages to get so much definition from candle-lit scenes. Whatever its cinematic and commercial challenges, at least The Chateau dares to deal pungently and amusingly with the social and cultural chasms separating Frogs and Yanks. In English and occasional French with some subtitles, the film often pleases because its goals are obviously so modest.
Sometimes cute, but often annoyingly quirky, this film about two clueless young Americans who inherit an ugly French chateau will amuse Francophiles and those with a high tolerance for silliness and oddball cinematic surprises.