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TORONTO — A divorced couple from the U.K. hop over to France to steal a supersized diamond that’ll allow them to recoup their destroyed pension funds in The Love Punch, a film that is mostly as silly and absurd as its synopsis suggests, with stars Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan working overtime to compensate for a mixed-bag screenplay.
One of the few pleasing elements of the latest film of director Joel Hopkins is that it again features middle-aged protagonists, with Thompson, who starred in the director’s Last Chance Harvey, and Brosnan joined by Timothy Spall (Winston Churchill in The King’s Speech) and Celia Imrie (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) as a couple of friends who need all of 20 seconds to say “yes” to a request to help kidnap and then impersonate some Texans during a chateau-set wedding. Indeed, recognizable human behavior is not this film’s forte — which wouldn’t be a problem if something else would take its place but Punch never finds the right tone for the heterogeneous material, with sweetly melodramatic scenes alternating with high drama, some light action and farce.
Older audiences, especially in Europe, might be drawn by the marquee names and the promise of a good old time but the film doesn’t have the originality or unblemished execution needed to drive the word-of-mouth that could make this a sleeper hit. It’ll open in the U.K. in December.
Kate (Thompson) and Richard Jones (Brosnan) both try to fill their lives with activities to keep them from realizing they’re divorced and lonely, especially now that daughter Sophie (Tuppence Middleton) has moved out of Kate’s and Richard, who has just sold his investment firm, is about to retire.
The two have an almost too cute negative chemistry that signals they’re still quite into each other, as evidenced in the prolog and an early scene in Paris, where the duo are in search of the CEO of the company that bought Richard’s business and immediately gutted it, making all its pension funds, including Kate and Richard’s, disappear. After some pratfalls the couple burst into the Parisian office of the French evildoer, Vincent Kruger (Laurent Lafitte,who’d twirl his mustache if he had one), who laughs in their faces since all he’s done is strictly legal.
Kate and Richard then hatch another plan (not at all legal): they want to steal the $10 million diamond that Kruger’s pretty young girlfriend (Louise Bourgoin, whose French charms don’t translate into English at all) will wear during the couple’s impending nuptials. For this, the former lovers need the help of their friends (Spall, Imrie), who duly fly in to the Cote d’Azur. One of the film’s better running gags involves the secret paramilitary history of Spall’s character, which will come in handy, since the others are all bumbling, middle-aged wannabe thieves (even if Brosnan’s 007 past is occasionally an easy target for laughs).
Though Thompson and Brosnan are believable as a former couple, the romantic subplot involving their re-emerging feelings is the most predictable element of Hopkins’ screenplay and also the source of some very cringe-worthy dialog. The comedy is very hit-and-miss and the action elements are also a mixed bag; there’s a comical-for-all-the-wrong-reasons car chase but the actual heist is nimbly plotted and credible in a Monty Python kind of way (in its best moments, the film recalls A Fish Called Wanda).
Jean-Michel Bernard’s antiquated, extremely busy score tries to keep the pace from lagging, while the songs of Free and other rock groups on the soundtrack are meant to make the silly antics look cooler but instead highlight how incongruous they are. Otherwise, this Franco-British co-production is handsomely put together, with great use of locations, especially.
Venue: Toronto Film Festival (Gala Presentation)
Production companies: Process, Radar Films, The Love Punch Limited, SND Films
Cast: Emma Thompson, Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Spall, Celia Imrie, Tuppence Middleton, Laurent Lafitte, Louise Bourgouin
Writer-Director: Joel Hopkins
Producers: Tim Perell, Nicola Usborne, Clement Miserez, Jean-Charles Levy
Executive producers: Thierry Desmichelle, Lionel Uzan, Matthieu Warter, Al Munteanu, Nicolas Manuel
Director of photography: Jerome Almeras
Production designer: Patrick Durand
Music: Jean-Michel Bernard
Editor: Susan Littenberg
Sales: SND Films/WME
No rating, 94 minutes.
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