Director Stephen Frears has documented the private life of a modern monarch (The Queen), the love life of a record-store dude (High Fidelity) and the sex lives of bored French aristocrats (Dangerous Liaisons).

Director Stephen Frears has documented the private life of a modern monarch (The Queen), the love life of a record-store dude (High Fidelity) and the sex lives of bored French aristocrats (Dangerous Liaisons).

In Cheri, he turns to a tale of a courtesan cougar in 1920s Paris. It's period piece-meets-current pop-culture obsession.

Liaisons alum Michelle Pfeiffer plays Lea de Lonval, a wealthy and famous prostitute who, having reached "a certain age," is on the cusp of retirement.

She becomes involved with Cheri (Rupert Friend), the young and disaffected son of fellow high-society occupant Madame Peloux (Kathy Bates), and their lusty dalliance becomes complicated by feelings, as such things have a tendency to do.

Cheri vacillates from light farce (successfully) to drama (less so) so often that it can't settle on the right tone. The sex-tinged plot - adapted from a pair of Collette novels - is surprisingly dull at the hands of Liaisons scribe Christopher Hampton, who incorporates a floating omnipotent narrator as the need arises.

Pfieffer's role is pivotal, but her performance a bit lackluster, burying the emotion too far under her proper exterior for it to register much at all. In the title role, Friend doesn't elicit much sympathy with his poor rich-boy act, making the film that much tougher to love.

Overall, it's a bit of a misstep for Frears. Cheri can't live up to its fine pedigree.