HOOKING UP

Cert 15 Stars 2

Limp and less than satisfying, this tame sex comedy is a attempts to romp around the US but is too respectful of the State’s addiction to therapy and monogamy to spring any surprises.

Eager to please but suppressed by a timid script, Brittany Snow and Sam Richardson play strangers who’ve agreed to re-enact her sexual history in all the cities, towns, clothes shops, changing rooms and airport toilet where she’s had sex.

She’s a cynical magazine sex writer using the trip as cathartic therapy, and he’s a shy gym worker for whom it’s a welcome excuse for a great time before he loses his remaining testicle, but she hasn’t told him she’s secretly blogging about their adventures on her magazine website.

With sex guaranteed they gradually get to know each other which makes for a very predictable and safe experience. And with the best jokes banged in at the beginning, it means the fun’s all done after about ten minutes. Which always makes for a disappointing evenings entertainment.

THE LOVEBIRDS

Cert 15 Stars 3

A pair of likeable stars bring a breezy freshness to this otherwise by-the-numbers romcom caper and do enough to divert you from the feeling you’ve seen it all before.

Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani play Leilani and Jibran, lovebirds who risk becoming jailbirds when a road accident unwittingly involves them in a high powered blackmail conspiracy and a night of being chased by the police and a relentless gun-toting bad guy.

Being in possession of a phone containing compromising photographs of prominent people, they’re chased around from dinner party, to bars, and to a masked ball which unsurprisingly turns out to be populated by high society swingers.

Being tied up, assaulted and forced to dress very badly allows them to learn truths about each other and reevaluate their relationship.

If this sounds familiar well you’re probably thinking of Steve Carell and Tina Fey in 2010’s Date Night, or Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams in 2018’s Game Night, and possibly a few more besides.

Where this is notably different is in the casting, as it’s still regrettably rare to see an African-American and a Pakistani-American headlining even in this sort of modest Hollywood fare.

The script is blind to their ethnicity except when gags are made about police prejudice, and even this is balanced by the vaguely sympathetic investigating officer also being African-American.

Rae is bright, vivacious and the more funny and ballsy of the two, though that doesn’t take much, as Nanjiani would probably be the first to admit he’s far from being an Alpha male.

He’s amiable screen presence and his throwaway comic asides on modern life are delivered in the passive aggressive style manner he demonstrated in 2017’s romcom success, The Big Sick, for which he was Oscar nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

A mainstream entertainment not trying to change the world, The Lovebirds provides sufficient chuckles in its enjoyable, undemanding and disposable way.

CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET?

Cert 15 Stars 2

This feather light US romcom floats about in a pleasant enough way and occasionally forcing a smile but never laughter.

Adapted from writer Sophie Kinsella’ 2003 chick-lit novel, this feels exactly what it is, a weak combination rip-off of Bridget Jones and Sex in the City, and it’s as dated as that sounds, despite being updated to ‘now’, moved across the pond and littered with an attractive young cast.

A game and likeable Alexandra Daddario stars as Emma, a junior marketing assistant experiences massive turbulence on a flight home, and believing she’s going to die she unloads all her most intimate secrets to the handsome stranger sat next to her.

Unfortunately he turns out to be her new CEO, and is played by TV Superman Tyler Hoechlin, who’s mostly required to stand around looking handsome and bemused at Emma’s antics, a bit like err, Clarke Kent, but without the glasses.

It’s hard to argue with the film’s message of honesty in relationships, but lame innuendo fails to substitute for insight or wit.

EMMA

Cert U stars 4

This fabulously dressed adaptation of Jane Austen’s much loved novel by the makers of Four Weddings and a Funeral, is faithful to its character, plot, period costume and humour.

More used to appearing in modern thrillers, this is an impressive change of gear for Anya Taylor-Joy, who brings a porcelain elegance to the twenty one year old Emma.

She’s a snobbish rich busybody on a difficult path to self-enlightenment and true love, whose vain attempts at playing village matchmaker powers the comedy.

And it brings her into conflict with her exasperated yet handsome and single neighbour, played by the generously whiskered Johnny Flynn.

Filmed on location in grand country houses, it also has welcome appearances from those other British institutions, Bill Nighy and Miranda Hart in key roles.

Concerns such as old age poverty and male toxicity play out alongside tart observations of pretension, pomposity, arrogance and cruelty.

But Emma’s growing self-awareness and kindness wins the day, ensuring this is enough to melt the heart of the most determined St. Valentine’s Day cynic.

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PLUS ONE

Cert 15 Stars 2

Featuring a dozen weddings and zero funerals, this millennial spin on the romcom is  laugh-light, derivative and strangely downbeat, and feels more like a sneering and mopey indie road trip drama than the classic When Harry Met Sally to which it owes a huge debt.

Jack Quaid and Maya Erskine star as singletons Ben and Alice, who team up as each other’s platonic plus one for the upcoming wedding season, in order to help each other find dates.

Despite much contrary evidence, the uptight Ben is described as cute, charming and funny, and being self-pitying and with his twice married dad is getting wed again, which encourages Ben’s self-pitying nature.

Alice is much more fun but in their directorial debut, writers Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer reduce her to being the conduit for Ben’s learning curve, meaning she has to be humiliated so he can grow as a person.

Few people seem to be having a good time, and nor was I.

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SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME

Cert 12A 129mins Stars 4

You won’t believe what you’re seeing in this comic book action adventure as Spider-man hits the high spots in a deliciously deceptive head-spinning romp.

A direct sequel to blockbuster smash, Avengers: Endgame, this is a mischievous mix of sweet high school romcom, fun teenage spy caper and exciting superhero CGI spectacular.

Peter Parker is in romantic pursuit of classmate MJ, on their school’s European vacation, when his costumed alter-ego Spider-man learns heroes don’t get holidays. 

Grumpy secret agent Nick Fury teams Spider-man with superhero Mysterio, which will be a surprise to long-time Spidey fans as Mysterio is one of the web-swinger’s best known arch-villains.

But re-inventing Mysterio as a dimension-hopping hero with a tragic past makes him a more interesting character while also tying this version of Spider-man into last year’s animated Multi-verse adventure.

Parker identifies Mysterio as the man to replace Iron Man as his mentor, and they set about battling the Elementals, extra-dimensional giants with power over air, earth, wind and fire.

Returning with a winning chemistry as Peter Parker and MJ, Brit actor Tom Holland and pop star Zendaya are the beating heart of the film, with her self-contained charisma making MJ the best superhero squeeze since Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane, in 1978’s Superman.

And they’re reunited with the key young cast members of Spider-man: Homecoming, and Marvel fan favourites such as Samuel L. Jackson, Jon Favreau and Marisa Tomei reprise their roles as the adult guardians.

Indie movie star Jake Gyllenhaal brings his unique brand of loopy intensity to Mysterio, and while he often gives the impression of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, it’s a useful quality to have when playing a guy trying to save the planet.

Having Parker unveil various old and new Spider-suits is part of a stream of call-backs to previous films, which will have fans cooing in delight.

Plus a pair of fat-rimmed hi-tech spectacles are a knowing wink to Michael Caine’s 1960’s spy, Harry Palmer, and neatly magnify the script’s central concerns.

While the film wears the frothy air of an espionage caper, the tone disguises some very serious thoughts about fake news and multi-media manipulation, while reminding us Parker was employed in other incarnations as a photojournalist.

From dealing with the fallout of Endgame to deciphering what Marvel has in store for Spider-man, there’s a lot to uncover in this, and one of the best secrets is kept until after the credits, so make sure you stay until the absolute end.

MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN

Cert PG 114mins Stars 4

Unleash your inner dancing queen and boogie in the glorious sunshine glow of whats’ going to be the smash hit of the summer.

This unashamedly feel good sequel to 2008’s poptastic box office chart buster is another sequinned celebration of sisterly love and the unbreakable bonds of motherhood.

Once again the irresistible platinum-plated pop tunes of ABBA set the tone for this flamboyant escapist fantasy, which sees the original cast reunite in a split storyline which flicks between events now and from twenty five years ago. 

In the present Amanda Seyfried is organising her Greek island hotel’s grand opening night and frets about her relationship with Dominic Cooper, while a deliciously lusty Christine Baranski and a lovelorn Julie Walters banter for space alongisde Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard.

There’s a conspicuous deficit of Meryl Streep as Seyfried’s vivacious screen mother, Donna. However the younger version of the character is played in the earlier timeline by Lily James, and the former Downton star treats us to a barnstorming turn worthy of Streep herself.

Bristling with defiance, optimism and enthusiasm, we see how Donna meets a trio of buff and eager suitors who become responsible for the confusion surrounding her daughters parentage.

All this turning back time sets up a show-stopping singing turn by the ever fabulous Cher. It’s one of many preposterous and crowd-pleasing scenes, my favourite of which is set at sea and best described as Dunkirk with a disco beat.

This brazen and cheerfully loopy sense of fun mingles with heartfelt multi-generational bonding and the pains of summer loving.

Among the barely choreographed mass dance-alongs and ill advised attempts at singing lurks a finger so firmly on the pulse of its intended audience it was rewarded at the packed-out world premiere with an all singing and dancing ovation. 

And if you’re a fan of the first film then you’ll love this second outing just as much as they clearly did.

THE BOY DOWNSTAIRS

Cert 12A 89mins Stars 2

There’s little to laugh at in this slight, limp, frustrating and maudlin millennial romcom.

The likeable Zosia Mamet stars as aspiring writer and singleton, Diana, who has moved to New York after three years in London.

She takes a job in a bridal shop and this is probably intended as irony but the script fails to build on the idea.

Moving into an apartment Diana is surprised to discover her ex-boyfriend is the boy living downstairs and OMG, in a new relationship.

Matthew Shear’s struggling musician Ben is such a remarkably unprepossessing presence I’m staggered he can romance not one but two attractive women during the course of the film.

And that’s without his default behaviour which is clingy, spineless and dull.

Thank goodness for Diana’s best friend Gabby, who brings energy and humour and is far more worthy of our attention than her sadly scant screen time allows.

Plus her love life seems much more dynamic, interesting and well, fun.

OVERBOARD

Cert 12A 112mins Stars 3

Allow yourself to drift along with this sunny and smooth sailing romcom and you’ll not be disappointed with your destination.

Anna Faris plays a struggling single mother, Kate, who convinces Mexico’s Eugenio Derbez’s amnesia-ridden wealthy playboy they’re married.

It’s a gender-flipped remake of the 1987 comedy starring Goldie Hawn as a socialite and Kurt Russell as working-class single father.

As ever Faris brings a wealth of charm and comic ability, and works well with Derbez, who is the one of the best known names in Latin American entertainment.

He plays the dashing and obnoxious Leonardo who lives on a super-yacht filled with bimbos and butlers, with Scots actor John Hannah cruising along as one of the latter.

Having insulted the hard working Kate, Leo later falls overboard drunk, and washes ashore with no memory.

This allows Kate to convince him they are married, enabling he to focus on her nursing exams while he goes out to work and looks after the housework and her three blonde daughters

The youngest two are ridiculously cute and the eldest is a suitably stroppy teen. Kate also enjoys an easy rapport with Eva Longoria, as her best friend, Theresa.

Though the story flounders early on, it finds it’s stroke and rhythm once Leonardo’s rehabilitation gets underway.

It’s all knowingly preposterous, and openly acknowledges its debt to the many appalling but hugely popular daytime Mexican soap operas.

And it’s not afraid to makes points about the extra unpaid domestic work women do after a hard day’s work.

As a wall is built between Mexico and the US in the real world, the film’s cross cultural love across the barricades borders on being a provocative political statement.

Although I was never swept away by the predictable romance and I wasn’t rolling in waves of laughter, it’s harmlessly enjoyable, appropriately forgettable, and a mild improvement on the original.

 

 

HOME AGAIN

Cert 12A 97mins Stars 3

Reese Witherspoon and Michael Sheen are two of my favourite actors and possess such quantities of warmth and talent they can turn even this nonsensical romcom into enjoyable entertainment.

Though neither are stretching themselves, they understand what is demanded and deliver with will practiced expertise.

Playing separated parents of two adorable daughters, she is sexy, sparky and vulnerable while he is vain, selfish and sly.

In a vote of confidence for middle aged mothers everywhere, Witherspoon is lusted after by the three hot young filmmakers who have moved temporarily into the guest house of her sumptuous villa home. 

This forces her errant husband to reconsider his life choices.

Being set in the wealthiest part of Los Angeles where the sun always shines, this escapist fantasy of female empowerment has only a passing relationship with the world as we know it.

Still it’s a sweetly sentimental and occasionally funny place, which is pleasant enough to visit but I’d never call it home.