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Originally published Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 3:03 PM

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Friends reveal true feelings in star-studded 'Little White Lies'

A movie review of "Little White Lies," a sprawling European variation on "The Big Chill" starring Oscar winners Jean Dujardin and Marion Cotillard.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Little White Lies,' with François Cluzet, Jean Dujardin, Marion Cotillard, Benoît Magimel. Written and directed by Guillaume Canet. 154 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains profanity, smoking). In French, with English subtitles. Egyptian.

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Homosexual panic drives the plot of "Little White Lies," a sprawling, initially engaging French comedy-drama that became a hit in France but ultimately underwhelms.

Consistently generating the most tension are a Parisian control freak, Max (François Cluzet), and his longtime pal, Vincent (Benoît Magimel), a young father who feels stifled by marriage and stimulated by something more than hero worship. When Vincent surprises Max by declaring his love for him, the easily agitated Max goes off the deep end.

Further complicating matters are their plans for a seaside vacation together — and the sudden hospitalization of another pal, Ludo, played by none other than this year's best-actor Oscar winner, Jean Dujardin ("The Artist"). It's almost a cameo role, though the cocaine-fueled traffic accident that takes Ludo near death is the most spectacular sequence in the film.

Relying not on editing but on virtuoso camerawork, it's also a stunning way to begin this story. It happens on the eve of their vacation, and it immediately casts a pall on their plans to stay at Max's vacation home. Should they stay near Ludo in Paris or should they go?

Another recent French Oscar winner, Marion Cotillard ("La Vie en Rose"), plays Marie, who wants to stick around Paris and be there for Ludo. Vincent and Max are distracted, and so are several others who decide to leave Ludo to his Parisian nurses.

The dilemma forces the characters to reveal their motives and priorities (Cluzet is the standout in a fine cast), and for a while the writer-director, Guillaume Canet ("Tell No One"), keeps everything in focus.

But gradually his "Big Chill"-like reliance on American pop songs (Janis Joplin, The Band, a curiously cheesy version of "My Way") becomes a liability. So does a 2 ½-hour running time.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

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