Bob Fosse’s idea that life is a cabaret is taken up by James Ivory’s film, though with little of Fosse’s verve and genius. The title refers to both the pipe-dream nightclub of ex-diplomat Jackson (Ralph Fiennes) and impoverished exiled tsarist aristocrat Sofia (Natasha Richardson), who will be its "centerpiece." Jackson lost his ideals after the Wilsonian failure at Versailles and his family and eyesight after a fire; yet despite turning away from the world, he’s chosen to live in Shanghai, in the midst of a revolution and invasion. His White Countess is a tepid version of Rick’s Café, with sexy but tasteful trappings and an aura of innocuous political intrigue. In short, it is itself a kind of Merchant Ivory film, and in the wake of Merchant’s death that makes this final collaboration between the two apt, if not compelling.