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Tautou shines in French 'Priceless'

Priceless (Hors de prix)(NR)

Three stars out of four

"Priceless" is the kind of romantic comedy where you can figure out the ending within the first five minutes. But unlike others like it, you have no idea just how it's going to reach its destination. It regularly zigs when it should zag and constantly tosses out the kind of twists any thriller would be proud of.

After wowing global audiences as the earthy title character in "Amelie" and playing the very proper investigator in "The Da Vinci Code," Audrey Tautou slips into a role perhaps only one other woman in the history of movies could possibly play. Her name was also Audrey.

Tautou goes way against type and expectations as Irene, a slinky, cunning and outwardly unlikable gold digger plying her trade at various high-dollar French resorts. She spots her marks - filthy rich, easily flattered, middle-aged men - and moves in with unerring skill.

The movie opens with her about to seal the deal on one such mark when she gets distracted by Jean (Adrien Brody look-alike Gad Elmaleh), an ordinary sort with hangdog looks who oozes natural, slightly nervous charm. So convincing is Jean, Irene loses her wits and falls hard. There's just one little problem: Jean is really a dirt poor hotel valet.

Disgusted with her own lapse in judgment, Irene discards Jean and finds herself back at square one, looking for her next target. Just when she's about to land another catch, Jean swoops in and throws her off. He's like a stray puppy nipping at her heels she can't quite shoo away.

As the movie progresses, Jean figures out there's more than one woman who appreciates his company while Irene finds it harder to continue her convincing, yet shallow act. The tables turn, then they turn again and hats off to director/co-writer Pierre Salvadori for constantly keeping us on our toes.

Along the way, Salvadori unapologetically pinches from "Roman Holiday," "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and a dozen other European travelogue classics and luckily for him, he has the perfect leading lady at his disposal to pull it all off.

Miss Tautou is not Miss Hepburn but she's the closest any actress has come to capturing Hepburn's essence in the last 40 years. Tautou has it all and any American filmmaker who doesn't follow Ron Howard's lead and fails to cast her in their next film will be missing the boat in a big way.

Presented in French with English subtitles.

Opens at the Lefont Sandy Springs, 100-152 Sandy Springs Circle, Sandy Springs. Call 404-255-0100 or visit www.lefonttheaters.com/schedules/sandysprings. Also opens at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, 931 Monroe Drive, Atlanta. Call 678-495-1424 or visit www.landmarktheatres.com. (Samuel Goldwyn)