Art & Culture

It's the music that's the giveaway. It's always the music. You hear the swelling strings, the jaunty pipes, or whatever other flavoured sauce is being dripped over the film, and you know the director doesn't trust him/herself to deliver a story which you can believe in and follow without the aid of regular aural nudges to tell you how to feel. It's depressing, predictable and fatal.

This is not a bad film. It's worse. It's a profoundly mediocre film which takes a perfectly good source novel, and subjects it to a relentless barrage of blandness, so that at the end we are left in a state of perfect indifference. Like Exotic Marigold Hotel, it's middlebrow crap, pre-crushed into pap so that it can be easily and painlessly digested without us having to do any of the chewing ourselves. The film has no edge, no texture, no originality, nothing but cliches, smart one liners and situations that will confirm our deepest and shallowest prejudices. And no I'm not recommending it.

The set up. Dr Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) is a slightly nerdy fisheries expert, in a loveless marriage. Harriet (Emily Blunt) is a PR person whose company's top client is a rich Yemeni sheik. The sheik wants to start salmon fishing in the Yemen, but Dr Jones says it can't be done. The PM"s press secretary Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas) needs a good news story related to the Middle East and alights on the salmon fishing idea like a tsetse fly, so that Harriet and Alfred are thrown together, and despite their initial differences (not to mention their marital baggage) – well, I suspect you can see where this is going. And no, I don't think I'm giving anything away. When Hollywood casts two leading actors of different genders as their stars, then there is only one possible outcome. That's just the way that life (or cinema) is.

But that's not my beef. What I'm unhappy about is that the whole thing is put together in such a casual and slapdash way. None of the characters have an ounce of credibility about them. None of the scenes fit together with any grace or wit.They are simply stapled one to the other in an arbitrary and mechanical fashion. There is almost no point to the whole enterprise except for a so called happy ending which amounts to nothing more than wishful thinking. The film also suffers from poorly thought out sub-plots, like the one about the people who don't like the Sheik's idea and try to sabotage it. And frankly, I'm not sure how the fact that both Fred and Harriet are already in other relationships helps matters at all. The wife and the boyfriend are merely disposable narrative extras to be dumped in order to make the story more exciting. I guess.

In any case, it doesn't work. People will go and see the film, drawn by the undeniable magnetism of the stars. Scott Thomas is her usual acerbic self, channelling Malcolm Tucker as she storms around being bossy and rude, but without the sheer venom and immediacy of that unforgettable character. But Lasse Hallstrom is a director who has made a speciality of turning the cordon bleu to baby food, from Chocolat to Cider House Rules. Nothing can escape the grasp of his heavyhanded dullness.

You pays your money and you takes your choice. I think you know what I think.


By Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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