Monday, March 12, 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

The laughs are mostly unintentional in Lasse Hallstrom's "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen," a threadbare outline of a bad romcom aimed at the type of Kaballah-practicing Westside woman who found meaning and insight in "Eat Pray Love." Ewan McGregor plays a prissy ichthyologist in a loveless marriage entered into too young. Emily Blunt is typecast as the personal assistant to a Sana'a sheikh with billions to burn on the titular pipe dream. She taps McGregor to spearhead the project.

This is Hallstrom's conception of the ideal modern woman: an attractive young thing with some social graces who fits into expensive dresses as a wealthy man's sycophant and is pretty much up for whatever a guy wants. She's been seeing a soldier for a few weeks when he gets the call he's being shipped off to "somewhere sandy." He doesn't know how long he'll be gone, but will she wait for him? Not a problem! Then he's presumed dead in an IED accident and she sashays over to Ewan's yurt. Will she let him get her over her grief? "Mmm hmm," she says, leaning into a kiss. (Of course, Soldier Boy survives and reappears, she immediately runs back to him, then Ewan asks her to return to him, and she does that too, without so much as an "it's been real.")

Meanwhile, the sheikh spews enough ersatz mystical claptrap to fill every fortune cookie at Empress Pavilion. (You know he's about to egest some hooey when Hallstrom cues up the pan-flute music.) There's also an abortive subplot flown in from another movie involving local radicals aiming to kill His Excellency and sabotage the project, with an ambush scene and a dam-breaking scene so laughably staged Hallstrom may get the nod as the worst director of action in film history. (Suffice it to say, for all his rials, the shiekh could use better security.)

Kristin Scott Thomas brings a bit of lightness to her cigar-chomping part as the Prime Minister's ruthless, catch-as-catch-can PR director. This type of comedy suits her, though it's well below the level of 2008's crackling "In the Loop." The rest of the picture has about as much substance as a Saharan photo spread for the Banana Republic summer line.

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