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Movie Review:

"Dirty Pretty Things"

This isn't a "dirty" movie. Nor is it pretty; it shows a lot of the grit of modern-day London.

But the things it's about make you think.

Audrey Tautou, who was so great in "Amelie" a couple of years ago (and is only 25 years old), plays Senay, a Turkish immigrant who's trying to stay one step away from UK immigration authorities, who are played to almost comic effect as greasy idiots. Tautou's performance is even more compelling when you consider this is her first English-speaking role, and she's doing it affecting a Middle Eastern accent.

British-born Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Okwe, a Nigerian doctor who's in London -- well, we're not sure why at the beginning of the film, and I won't ruin the plot by telling you why, because it's central to a lot of the plot points -- working at the front desk on the midnight shift of a goofy little hotel, where the maids are all immigrants, and half the rooms seem to be rented to prostitutes, who as is typical in movies like this, have a heart of gold.

You'll think it's a murder mystery when a body part is found stuffing up a toilet in one of the rooms. But the manager is strangely uninterested in having this investigated, as Okwe and Senay find out when they begin to do so, and as they do so, realize (or at least she does), that they are falling in love, even though they have both begun simply working together, then "sharing" a flat (he sleeps on the couch, and they both wind up on the run from the greasy immigration investigators), eventually winding up sleeping at the morgue, courtesy of a doctor friend of Okwe's.

I don't want to give you the impression this is a comedy, either, though it does have its funny moments, and winks at us while it's doing it. Instead, it's a thoughtful commentary on what foreign, dark-skinned immigrants to a country like the UK (what one of the characters makes a point of telling everyone that it's "this wonderful country") have to go through, the prejudice they see on an everyday basis, and how their status in their home countries means nothing when they immigrate.

You've never seen London like this, either; the grit of the streets shows, as does the opulence of some of the landmarks we all know are London, and the attempted opulence of the silly little hotel, run by "Senor Juan", who although he is clearly supposed to be Spanish, he works very hard at being an "Englishman". This is Spanish actor Sergi Lopez, also in his first English-speaking role.

I won't ruin the plot twists at the end (and you knew there had to be some), only to say that Okwe's medical training turns out to be very important.

Stephen Frears directed this film; he's responsible for such offbeat hits as "High Fidelity" and "The Grifters", in addition to more mainstream fare like "Dangerous Liaisons". He's got another winner on his hands here. I liked this film a lot, and you can add it to the list of good summer fare that doesn't have to have explosions to sell tickets.

AYRating: *** 1/2