ST. LOUIS — Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae) are the kind of couple who bicker over everything, mixing in comedy monologues and pop culture references as they go back and forth. It's so cinematic because no real couple can conjure up comebacks this quick. As one character notes, they are a nice-seeming couple who also happen to be very annoying.
That's a good way to describe this movie.
The bickering couple are the backbone of Michael Showalter's new film, "The Lovebirds," which just debuted on Netflix. Originally aimed for an April release under the Paramount banner, this comedy received a streaming date instead, which wasn't a bad idea.
Here's the thing. This movie isn't very good. In fact, it's forgettable. I just finished it an hour ago and it's starting to drift from my memory, lodging itself right up against the laundry sitting downstairs and the recycling that needs to be taken out. A film that has an easy to detect guilty pleasure vibe never comes off as anything more than a moderate time-waster.
Jibran and Leilani are on the verge of breaking up when they hit a man with their car. Within minutes, they are embroiled in a murder mystery and on the run. It's not long before they are dropping phones in milk shakes, buying widely noticeable NOLA gear, and attending "Eyes Wide Shut" type conventions.
The biggest problem with this movie aren't the co-leads. Both Nanjiani (who created magic with Showalter on 2017's "The Big Sick") and Rae (who is very funny on HBO's "Insecure") are appealing actors who can carry less than stellar material. At times here, they manage to make you interested in this chaotic couple. But then a plot point must be gotten to, and the chemistry burns out like a lighter low on fluid. They are never given much to work with and are stuck in this hapless murder plot that derails the film's few good moments.
Nanjiani, who is in pre-Marvel buff body mode here, can deliver lines with the panicked disarray of a man slowly losing control with the best of them. He's put it to use in the previously mentioned "The Big Sick," for which he won a screenplay with his wife, Emily Gordon. But that film felt personal and hit the heart, possessing meaning and some virtue. Here, Nanjiani is looking for scraps at the table spread out by a screenwriting/story team that involves three different people.
While I am not a huge fan of Rae, or at least not yet, she can perform well under subpar conditions. Along with LaKeith Stanfield, she managed to hold my interest in the otherwise aloof romantic-drama, "The Photograph." With piercing eyes and a go for it style of comedy, Rae isn't bad here. She simply has nothing to do and doesn't get to build a character.
This film carries little mystery. You all know where it's going. Do you really think the two lovebirds aren't going to find their way back to each other? Give me a break. But a guilty pleasure doesn't have to be wholly original.
The problem here is the script. Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall were previously linked by the lukewarm NBC show, "Blindspot," and much of their story and subsequent jokes here feel like they came from a cancelled comedy series. Martin Gero, who also worked on the NBC drama, had a hand in the story here, but doesn't leave a mark. He's written good comedy before ("Bored to Death"), but not here.
The two worst things about a script is being unoriginal and not that interesting. I never feel like I should care about Jibran and Leilani's romance. I don't get enough time with them to build up a sustainable interest, one that can make me smile when they break into a karaoke version of Katy Perry's "Fireworks." While that scene is one of the few halfway decent moments in the film, it's too short and fleeting to matter.
The murder mystery at the center of the film is just lame and unfulfilling, and the films spends so much time on it. While I love the fact that the leads in a romantic comedy are being played by a Pakistani-American and an African American female, the film for which they are leading doesn't match the boldness in that casting. At one point in the film, Jibran and Leilani don't want to go to the cops based on their race. While ingenious, the film never does anything with that idea.
Thankfully, the film is only 88 minutes. It's quick and rather painless, but it wastes an opportunity to be something different.
I'd watch "The Big Sick" or even the Steve Carell-Tina Fey comedy "Date Night" instead.
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