"Jet Lag" keeps comparing itself to American movies, as if it wants to be lumped in among other pieces of forgettable romantic fluff.

That alone explains the major problem with this French-made comedy, which wastes several opportunities to be something different, something refreshing. And all it really had to do to be a better movie was quit playing to the usual, expected movie conventions.

Well, that's not completely true. The filmmakers also keep trying to sell us on the wrong-headed concept of Jean Reno and Juliette Binoche as a couple. Frankly, they'd be better off trying to sell swamp land located near the Eiffel Tower.

Reno stars as Felix, a worn-out, sleep-deprived frozen-foods entrepreneur whose flight to Munich has been delayed due to an air-traffic controller's strike. He's hoping to get to Germany so he can reconcile with his estranged ex-wife.

Instead, he gets an additional complication in his life: Rose (Binoche), a heavily made-up beautician who's running away from an abusive relationship.

Rose borrows his cellular phone to make an important call and then steals his heart. Only he hasn't realized that second part yet, and he tries to do everything he can to get away from this train wreck of a woman.

But fate keeps bringing the two of them together, first in the airport and later in a hotel room where the two of them finally begin breaking down each other's defenses.

The idea of gruff, scruffy Reno and the elegant-as-ever Binoche getting together is far too ridiculous to swallow even for a minute. Daniele Thompson's screenplay is filled with rather convenient, contrived plotting and other storytelling shortcuts, which helps reduce two potentially interesting characters to one-dimensional cartoons.

Still, give Binoche and Reno credit for nearly making it work — and for making us care about these two more than we probably should.

"Jet Lag" is rated R for scattered use of strong, sexual profanity and crude sexual talk, brief female nudity, brief drug content (use of sleeping pills), brief sex (including a pornographic movie seen on a television screen). Running time: 85 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com