"L'Auberge Espagnole" (translated as "The Spanish Apartment") is a mess. It's too full of characters and too jam-packed with ideas to be anything else.

And that's a shame, because there are potentially interesting characters that go underdeveloped and even more potentially fascinating ideas that are given short shrift.

This is a film that was badly in need of an editor early in the creative process. After all, some pruning could have helped this sprawling, scattered comedy-drama, which still has its share of moments in spite of itself.

The film also has one of the more likable leads in actor Romain Duris, who stars as Xavier, a French economics student participating in a yearlong student-exchange program in Barcelona.

He's finding the change in locales difficult — in particular, he's missing his girlfriend, Martine (Audrey Tautou), pretty badly. Still, he manages to befriend Anne-Sophie and Jean-Michel (Judith Godreche and Xavier de Guillebon), a young married couple also adjusting to life in a foreign country.

Xavier also manages to score a much-in-demand apartment, living with six other students from a variety of other European countries (ranging from England to Germany).

And in spite of himself, he finds himself indulging in relationships, including an illicit affair with Anne-Sophie. So it's no surprise that he feels himself starting to lose his cultural identity in his new environment.

Writer-director Cedric Klapisch has some great ideas here. But none are really addressed properly, and some of his quirky directorial touches, such as sped-up action (done for supposed comic effect), are more irksome than anything else.

Also, it takes some sort of talent to make the always-likable Tautou this unlikable (though much of that is the way her character is written).

Fortunately, the ensemble cast is very good, especially Duris, who makes Xavier's confusion all the more convincing. And newcomer Cecile De France is terrific as a lesbian who gives Xavier advice in his romantic relationships.

"L'Auberge Espagnole" is rated R for occasional strong, sexually related profanity and crude sex talk, simulated sex and other sexual contact, simulated drug use (marijuana) and brief, partial male and female nudity (including glimpses of nude photos). Running time: 122 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com