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Someday, I'd love to see a solid stage play starring Salma Hayek and John Lithgow, matching wits and verbally jousting at the tops of their respective games.

Not only would their disparate personae — the strong-minded Latina and the uptight patrician male — generate some fascinating sparks, but a stage production would wash away the bad taste left by their pairing in the shrill cross-cultural drama "Beatriz at Dinner."

Hayek plays Beatriz, a "healer" who works in a Southern California cancer clinic, helping the patients with yoga, massage, meditation and other treatments. She also has a few massage clients, which is why she's in a gated community, treating the super-wealthy Cathy (Connie Britton), when her car won't start.

Beatriz calls a friend to come help with the car, but it's hours until he can arrive. So Cathy invites Beatriz to stay for dinner, as she and her husband, Grant (David Warshofsky), are having a few guests over. The guest of honor is Lithgow's character, Doug Strutt, a billionaire developer who's celebrating with Grant and their colleague Alex (Jay Duplass) — along with Doug's trophy wife, Jeana (Amy Landecker), and Alex's uber-chic wife, Shannon (Chloe Savigny) — a legislative victory that will put more money in their pockets.

Listening quietly at first, Beatriz eventually speaks up. She asks Doug if he was the developer of a hotel in her Mexican hometown, one that promised jobs but soon closed, leaving the town destitute. The conversation gets increasingly tense, as Beatriz questions the damage Doug's rapacious capitalism does to the world, while he condescendingly defends what he does as the engine that keeps the economy humming.

Director Miguel Arteta and screenwriter Mike White, who collaborated on previous Sundance titles "Chuck & Buck" and "The Good Girl," turn the discussion into a sketch-comedy morality play, with the spiritual, self-sacrificing Beatriz entering the lion's den of Doug, his fawning colleagues and their idly wealthy wives.

Comparisons between Lithgow's character and Donald Trump are inevitable, even though the movie was in the works before last year's election. Though the two share a general fervor for capitalism and a disdain for anybody who's not rich, the Strutt character is a cartoon even by Trumpian standards.

The simplistic dialogue is made even more annoying by the fact that Hayek and Lithgow, pros that they are, try their damndest to inject authentic feeling into it. But as "Beatriz at Dinner" plods along to its somber, self-important ending, it proves itself too small a meal for these actors to feast on.

Twitter: @moviecricket —


'Beatriz at Dinner'

Salma Hayek and John Lithgow are better than their material in this pedantic exercise in cross-cultural stereotyping.

Where • Area theaters.

When • Opens Friday, June 23.

Rating • R for language and a scene of violence.

Running time • 82 minutes.