It’s difficult to refuse generosity without appearing ungrateful. That awkwardness — and the fact it grows with the size of the generosity — is central to “The Benefactor,” a drama starring Richard Gere.
This feature debut of writer-director Andrew Renzi introduces a type of character we don’t normally see on film: one who is both noble and, at times, as wildly inappropriate as a character in an Adam Sandler movie. Unfortunately, Renzi squanders this novelty in cliches and repetitive flashbacks.
Gere stars as Franny, a philanthropist who oversees a children’s hospital in Philadelphia. While ebullient in public, Franny is, in private, an alcoholic and opium addict who is circling depression. A terrible car accident five years earlier still haunts him; he survived, while his two best friends, a married couple, perished, leaving behind a teenage daughter.
Now grown, the daughter Olivia (Dakota Fanning) has reinvigorated Franny by welcoming him back into her life. It doesn’t take him long to ingratiate himself to Olivia, to her bewilderment, by giving her lavish presents, including a house. His substance abuse only makes his behavior more erratic.
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Mostly, “The Benefactor” is an opportunity for Gere to chew the scenery. Although his character sings, curses and generally behaves badly, Gere delivers all of this with a staginess that does not resemble recognizable human behavior.
Early scenes are intriguing: Olivia and her new husband, Luke (Theo James), do not know what to make of Franny’s over-the-top gifts. He’s the sort who doesn’t hear “no” often, and his way of calling the husband Lukie is particularly obnoxious. But Renzi loses interest in the eccentric dynamics of this trio, and his film soon adopts the conventional trajectory of countless other films about junkies.
“The Benefactor” suffers from a conclusion that feels inauthentic to the real perils of addiction, as well as to its own story. The only remarkable thing about it is Gere, who really should stick to filmmakers worthy of his talent.
(At Studio 28.)
Not rated. Time: 1:30.