Remarkably, Iris Blond, Carlo Verdone's overwrought and inept comedy about an aging, failed pop performer who regains a little glory and a lot of romance, bagged a positive review recently from The New York Times. But even the Gray Lady's blessing, so integral to the success of a specialized release, won't save it from dropping off the charts.

Not that Verdone stints on energy. As both performer and director, he tries mighty hard to please. He provides some attractive actors (especially Claudia Gerini, but also the campy Andrea Ferreol), colorful locales (Italy and Belgium), lots of hooky Euro-pop, and a cute dog. As an actor, he tries hard, too, but all his efforts yield the kind of homegrown, insular mass-audience picture that can't cross borders except to clog international film markets.

Verdone stars as middle-aged Romeo, an Italian musician whose career and love life have hit the low notes. After an encouraging encounter with a fortune teller, he meets the Belgian Marguerite (Ferreol), a singer with whom he forms a brief professional and personal partnership. Out to walk their dog, Romeo stops for a burger and befriends his very young and sexy waitress Iris (Gerini). Romeo splits from Marguerite and hooks up with Iris, who also writes poetry and sings in a choir. Romeo, aborning a star, sets music to her verses. They successfully record the material, then take their act on the road. As Iris Blond and the Freezer (yes, the name of the group), their partnership flourishes, although Iris is definitely the rockin' front person, rolling over Romeo, who pounds the ivories in the background. When Iris becomes a hot commodity as a solo act and Romeo, who is twice her age, is sent out to pasture, she must choose between Romeo or her career. Audiences, too, have a choice but it won't be for Iris Blond.

--Doris Toumarkine