by Brian Brait

Under the Tuscan Sun

dir. Wells

Opens Fri Sept 26

Various Theaters

Six Pack was one my favorite movies when I was 10. The thought of having Kenny Rogers as my racecar-driving pops and sweet/stoic 18-year-old Diane Lane as my older sister was almost too much to bear. But then came Cherry. Even though I secretly lusted after Matt Dillon in The Outsiders, Cherry Valance was the main attraction. The female center of a movie about boys, she was the Hope Diamond in a box of rocks.

Twenty years and an Academy Award nomination later, Cherry is now a woman, trapped in a yuppie fantasy. Under the Tuscan Sun finds Lane luminous as Frances Mayes, a San Francisco writer who gets totally reamed in a messy divorce and hops a plane to Italy, when single life in the city becomes unbearable. She stumbles across Bramasole, a dilapidated villa in the country that becomes her home. In Tuscany, she finds love, empowerment, and humility. Plus some hot Italian guys!

Be fooled not, however; the tone is light as frothed milk, with numerous cultural inaccuracies and beige gloss-overs of life abroad, a reality pureed for easier and more enjoyable consumption. The numerous shots of the gorgeous landscape provoked "oooo"s and "ahhhh"s from the 35-and-over, skinny latte crowd in the audience, who were all now planning their own escape to the Italian sun. Too bad life abroad isn't all amazing vistas and music queued montage, but then again this is pure fantasy. The film is enjoyable--if not entirely forgettable--if you just let it wash over you, like a sunny day.

Lane completely carries the picture as the lead. Without her, it would have been pure unpalatable fluff. She lends a gravitational center to the storyline. Her tears are sad. ("Don't cry, Cherry.") Her joy is infectious. ("Yay, Cherry got laid!") Plus, Lane and co-star Sandra Oh, as lesbo gal-pal Patti, have real comic chemistry. Her turn to mainstream rom/com only illustrates that she should have been the Meg Ryan of the '90s. But there's no time like the present. Viva la Lane!