Thursday, March 8, 2012

Salmon Fishing In The Yemen

What's On This Paper Sums Up The Movie: A Cartoon

Ewan McGregor as Dr. Albert Jones in Lasse Hallstrom's romance comedy-drama "Salmon Fishing In The Yemen". 
CBS Films


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Thursday, March 8
, 2012

Have you ever known a film to get under your skin?  One that irritates you to no end?  Not many films do that to me, but "Salmon Fishing In The Yemen" is one of the rare breed that does.  Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, who backslides further since his 1999 Oscar-winning film "The Cider House Rules", and based on the novel by Paul Torday and adapted by screenwriter Simon Beaufoy ("The Full Monty", "Slumdog Millionaire"), "Salmon Fishing" is an exercise strictly for the dogs.  The film opens in the U.S. and Canada tomorrow.

Cartoonish and thinly veiled as silly putty, "Salmon Fishing In The Yemen" begins as a playful, light-hearted jaunt inside a crazy idea: a sheik (Amr Waked) believes his dream of having salmon fishing in Yemen can come true.  The sheik's emissary Harriet Chetwoode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) liaisons with British government fishing ministries expert Dr. Albert Jones (Ewan McGregor) to make the project work.  Dr. Jones thinks the idea is foolish, but the prime minister's press secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas) makes an opportunistic hustle for photo-op potential.

When the film isn't focused on the efforts of salmon fishing it diverts into a stereotypical and foolish thriller, with Middle Eastern assassins who attempt to curtail the salmon fishing project.  There's little explanation for why this suddenly happens in the film.  The tone and balance of "Salmon Fishing" completely shifts, and more than a few times, from comedy to abrupt drama, then back again, repeating this pattern for expedience sake.  Just as disruptive are the forced, repetitive stock images of schools of fish.  Overall, "Salmon Fishing In The Yemen" is all over the map, trying to do so much to create a divine transformation of movie magic but the pixie dust it sprinkles throughout is way past its expiration date.

What Mr. Hallstrom has here is a messy, disjointed, awkward film that fills in its holes with trumped-up fantasy, phony mysticism and a romance that, while predictable, is too easily and hurriedly reached.  One character, an Army soldier, is dropped in and out of the plot like a yo-yo.  Another, Mary (Rachael Sterling), the wife of Dr. Jones, is sketched as such a cold, indifferent hag so as to be unreal.  This irritating film stacks the deck from the very start, and in spades.  I didn't believe any of it, from the sheik's empty, patronizing lectures on faith to Dr. Jones' sudden bravery on foreign soil. 

This movie isn't brave enough to be brave.  It takes the easy way out by tossing up a series of weak comedy sketches into the air and hoping the disparate pieces land as a coherent whole when they hit the ground.  "Salmon Fishing In The Yemen" rings false and at that, far too theatrical.  You half expect dancing to erupt, and I'd rather it had.  (It worked in "Slumdog" Mr. Beaufoy: why not shake things up here?)  Surely a root canal would be more enjoyable?  Well, I've had one, and I can't disagree with the affirmative answer to that last question.

Everyone -- except Ms. Thomas, who dives into this fishy garbage with admirable zeal and conviction -- strains so hard to make comedy out of such a pointless affair, and the film's overall pretentiousness is enough to make even those viewers accustomed to such hollow work vomit.  Many will laugh and find this tepid attempt at farce entertaining, but I was not among them.  Ms. Thomas however, is the only reason to take a remote interest in a film that makes its sheik, first seen during the opening credits, some kind of ridiculous spiritual genie-mascot cardboard-cutout, sadly utilized more as a matchmaking facilitator than as a sincere architect of his own champagne wishes and salmon dreams. 

Mr. Hallstrom and Mr. Beaufoy work so hard to elicit laughs that there's even a scene (see the above picture) where Dr. Jones maps out the whole film on a piece of paper, except for failing to draw a big heart and scrawling the initials of the man and woman who belong inside it.   

Mr. McGregor tries to go with the flow of "Salmon Fishing", but he, like his buttoned down character end up swimming against the tide.  Dr. Jones continuously utters "Miss Chetwoode-Talbot" as if a punch line; only it's tiresome and unfunny.  After three mentions it's an instant sledgehammer.  Ms. Blunt is similarly strait-jacketed as the aforementioned hyphenate emissary and her character is stuck like cement in a film that doesn't allow her to flourish.  Her predicament sees her switching like a weathervane, and her resolution as a character is rushed.  She's trapped.  (Or, as they say in excuse-my-French parlance: "she's fucked.")

The merging of technology (e-mail, phone, computer) and moving letters on screen (for some strange reason) as a contrast to the untutored and expansive atmosphere of the film's slice of Yemen is odd.  There's a jingling of letters at the film's start that is either a wasted style point or just plain pointless.  What on earth is this connected to, or in aid of?  The frisky lettering is reminiscent of the bizarre, jingling titles throughout the deplorable "One Day" (2011), directed by Lone Scherfig.

"Salmon Fishing In The Yemen", which wants so much to be liked, is an entertainment many will laugh with, but I sneered at it, mildly seething with contempt.  Even with some of the bad films thus far in 2012, "Salmon Fishing" is the first real waste of my time at the movies this year.

With: Tom Mison, Conleth Hill, Clive Wood.

"Salmon Fishing In The Yemen" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for some sexual content and violence, and brief language.  The film's running time is one hour and 47 minutes.

COPYRIGHT 2012.  POPCORNREEL.COM.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.                Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW