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(Left to right) Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Richard Gere, Rebecca Hall

“THE DINNER”  My rating: C+ 

120 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Few things are quite as frustrating as watching great actors knock themselves out on material that’s not nearly as good as they are.

“The Dinner,” based on Herman Koch’s best-selling novel (it’s already been dramatized in Dutch and Italian versions), certainly has its moments, most of them provided in killer perfs by Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, Rebecca  Hall and especially Laura Linney.

But the film, set mostly in a restaurant so pretentious that the unctuous maitre’d announces each dish’s ingredients practically down to the molecular level, is itself off-puttingly  pretentious. Plus, the characters’ attitudes and behavior are so sleazy that you really can’t find anyone to root for.

In the first scene Paul Loman (Coogan), a former history teacher now working (abortively) on a book about the Civil War, and his wife Claire (Linney) are preparing for a family dinner at a posh eatery.

Paul isn’t keen on the gathering.  It’s the idea of his brother Stan (Gere), a U.S. Congressman now running for governor of their home state, and it’s obvious that the siblings don’t get along. Paul takes a fierce anti-establishment attitude, oozing sneering comments about his politician brother. The awesomely patient Claire somehow gets him into his clothes and out the door.

Once at the restaurant civility rapidly evaporates.  Paul is in a bitchy mood and it’s up to the wives, Claire and Katelyn (Hall), to smooth over the rough patches.

Why has Stan called this conclave?  Well, there’s a family crisis, though writer/director Owen Moverman (“Rampart,” “The Messenger”) takes his sweet time in giving us the details, relying heavily on convoluted flashbacks that almost send the narrative spinning out of control.

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