May 15, 2000 12:00 PM

Kristin Scott Thomas, Sean Penn, Anne Bancroft, Jeremy Davies

Even the best actors have their limitations. Talented Sean Penn runs smack up against his in Up at the Villa, a vapid romantic drama set in Italy in 1938 in which he has to saunter around in a tux and project an air of suave insouciance. Penn is as miscast here as a junkyard dog on display at the Westminster Dog Show.

He plays a rich, married Yankee of dubious reputation who falls in love with a fellow expatriate, an English widow (Scott Thomas), and helps her cover up an accidental shooting. Penn and Scott Thomas together generate as much heat as you’d get rubbing ice cubes. Director Philip Haas (Angels & Insects) fails to give Villa, which is based on a 1941 novella by W. Somerset Maugham, any modern sensibility that would differentiate it from a version that might have been made 60 years ago with Joan Crawford batting her lashes at Clark Gable. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: One big yawn

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