Rated R. On Netflix.
Intermittently amusing, but mostly lame, Paramount’s “The Lovebirds” was postponed from its April 3 theatrical release by the coronavirus and has gone straight to Netflix.
The film plays matchmaker with rising stars Issa Rae (“Insecure,” “The Photograph”) and Kumail Nanjiani, a likable couple to be sure, and riffs on classic screwball comedies with a violent edge, such as Jonathan Demme’s influential 1986 effort “Something Wild” with Melanie Griffith, Jeff Daniels and Ray Liotta.
Unfortunately, “The Lovebirds” director Michael Showalter is no Demme, although his 2015 geriatric comic romance “Hello, My Name Is Doris” with Sally Field was a charmer, and he worked very well with Nanjiani on the 2017 mismatched-couple comedy “The Big Sick,” which Nanjiani also co-wrote.
Jibran (Nanjiani) and Leilani (Rae) are a couple living in New Orleans. He’s making a documentary. She dreams out loud about being on “The Amazing Race,” which coincidentally is owned by the same company as Paramount. In their car, the bickering duo — he thinks she’s “shallow”; she things he’s “satisfied with being a failure” — agree to break up just before hitting a man on a bicycle.
The victim chooses to race off rather than wait for an ambulance. A stranger in plain clothes identifies himself as a policeman, commandeers their car and the three roar off in pursuit of bloodied bicyclist. What are the odds that this guy is not a cop?
Without even wondering if security or cellphone footage might clear them, Jibran and Leilani later find themselves fugitives from the law, and they go on a bizarre and mostly derivative and non-credible comic adventure that will presumably, make that definitely, end with them reunited.
Rae and Nanjiani are still waiting for their big star-is-born moments but the screenplay by the team of Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall, both of the undistinguished TV series “Blindspot,” isn’t up to the task. Occasionally, Rae and Nanjiani strike sparks improvising the dialogue. I decided that any time the dialogue wasn’t awful, and they were cute and funny, was improvisation by Rae and Nanjiani.
The film doesn’t understand comedy. Is it ever funny when someone threatens to throw boiling oil into your face? The filmmakers stop for a minute to plug Katy Perry’s already-way-too-ubiquitous, pop empowerment anthem “Firework.” “The Lovebirds” also borrows from “After Hours” and “Date Night,” and, in one long misguided and mostly misbegotten sequence, Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut,” featuring high society couples in beak-like masks eerily recalling the plague. The unflattering hairstyle Rae wears needs its own handler.
Reviews of a theatrical release of “The Lovebirds” would have called it a mediocre TV movie. Now, it is.
(“The Lovebirds” contains profanity, sexually suggestive language and violence.)