Kokowaah -- Film Review

This sleek father-meets-daughter comedy seems to aim at universal recognition, but actor-director Schweiger's blind spots limit its appeal to his hardcore fan-base.

This sleek father-meets-daughter comedy is from actor-director Til Schweiger, who is arguably German's biggest star.

BERLIN -- Arguably Germany's biggest star, Til Schweiger has also carved out a niche as one the country's most commercially successful directors. His newest effort, Kokowaah (as a child might pronounce "coq au vin"), neatly continues this trend and should deliver strong box-office results in German-speaking territories and perhaps minor theatrical play in Russia and Eastern Europe where Schweiger apparently has a following. The film's lack of an adequate second lead, sickening sweetness and bumbling narrative should preclude any other major expansion, since plot and execution are far from original.

Schweiger plays a down-on-his-luck screenwriter who is about to rekindle a professional and personal relationship with his long lost love (Jasmin Gerat), when an 8-year-old girl turns up on his doorstep. Magdalena (Schweiger's daughter Emma), whose parents are splitting up, has been sent there with a letter, telling Henry in no uncertain terms that he is her father and better behave like one from now on.

From here, the plot thins rather than thickens and is replaced by humorous set-pieces (involving school-bullies, kitchen fires and bumbling policemen), sleek montages underscored by power-ballads and jabs at the local film industry. Henri also pitches his current predicament as a screenplay, garnering favorable reactions and allowing Schweiger to tell audience and critics alike what his film is about, just in case they haven't seen the poster yet.

The only subplot that inspires some sincere emotional reaction concerns Magdalena's 'official' father (Samuel Finzi), who's unable to deal with the fact that the girl he loved for eight years is not his flesh and blood, but it is unfortunately burdened with overly didactic, heavy-handed dialogue.

Schweiger delivers a time-tested boilerplate performance that is virtually undistinguishable from turns in his other comedies (basically playing himself with a sense of humor and better repartee). But his daughter Emma falls short of the film's only other leading role: While cute as a button, she mugs through the assorted takes in a way that soon becomes exhausting and makes her father look like Laurence Olivier by comparison. This is not to say that she's necessarily untalented – just that she might have fared better with a smaller part or a director who, unlike any good father, does not adore everything she does.

Gerat, Finzi and Meter Becker as Magdalena's mother acquit themselves rather well, considering their character's lack of depths or substance, while the other actors involved should be handed a pass for this film, due to the fact that all the remaining parts are nothing but bizarre stereotypes.

Technical credits are top-of-the-line, with DP Christof Wahl (who, together with screenwriter Bela Jarzyk, is also named co-director) delivering top-notch cinematography worthy of a studio feature, which the film tries to emulate at every corner, down to actors spouting Americanisms and unnecessary stock-footage of New York.

And, while unduly long and unevenly structured, the film actually flows quite effortlessly at times – a testament to Schweiger's technical proficiency as a director, which is considerably above many a German director's.

But unlike actor-director Clint Eastwood, who was also derided for his limited range (and who gets two appreciative nods in Kokowaah), Schweiger has neither mastered storytelling nor introspection, which would be necessary for him to step out of his safety-zone and create something that is not just customized for his fan-base.

Then again, maybe he doesn't want to. 

Opened: In Germany Feb. 3 (Barefoot Films)
Cast: Til Schweiger, Emma Schweiger, Jasmin Gerat, Samuel Finzi, Meret Becker
Director: Til Schweiger
Screenwriter: Bela Jarzyk, Til Schweiger
Producer: Til Schweiger, Bela Jarzyk, Tom Zickler
Director of photography: Christof Wahl
Production designer: Silke Buhr
Music: Dirk Reichardt, Mirko Schaffer, Martin Todsharow
Costume designer: Gabrielle Reumer
Editor: Constantin von Seld
No rating, 127 minutes