Michelle Pfeiffer crosses the finish line of Chéri as a heartbroken, high-class prostitute in Belle Epoque Paris. She stares balefully into the mirror, studying her crow's-feet and the heartbreak in her eyes—but it's hard to muster much pity for her character, who feels like a focus-group fabrication. It's as if Hollywood execs heard the word "cougar" on a talk show five years ago and have been frantically scanning libraries ever since, looking for a classic story that'd let them cash in on the zeitgeist. So now they've made their cougar movie—and, they hope, cougar money—and Pfeiffer got to dress up as the sexy beast one more time. All of which is well and good, except nobody seems like they had a good time doing it. For all its sex and high-society high jinks, Chéri lacks iridescence and fire. It is a film built of rhinestones that plays this adaptation of Colette's two novels—Chéri and La Fin de Chéri—as if they had been written by Jane Austen in a dour mood.

The exception is Kathy Bates, who plays the Waspish mother of the young romantic lead. Her old colleague and competitor (Pfeiffer) has stolen the heart of her young, Byronesque son Chéri—but Bates wants grandkids, damnit, so she shoves her son into an arranged marriage. (Why the son agrees isn't entirely clear.) Bates seems to savor playing a sadistic old fussbudget, and she fills the screen with her harrumphing figure: a cirrus of brown hair above, mountainous bosoms below. Pfeiffer masks her sorrow and desperation beneath a thin veneer of jaded nonchalance, the happy hooker who couldn't be bothered with a thing like love. Chéri (Rupert Friend) sways between brooding and flip, his vapidity and fragility making him the most counterfeit character of all.

In the end, the happy hooker turns out better than Chéri. In Colette's world, men are the weaker sex—but even cougars get the blues. recommended