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REVIEW – “The Lovebirds” Caught in Bad Headwind of Strong Leads, but Poor Writing

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As this pandemic brings us closer together, whether it’s closer to a newfound peace, or closer to the brink of insanity, it’s clear our viewing habits have changed in a way that will take a long time to reverse. And with traditional cinematic experiences on hold until further notice, in-home streaming remains the lynchpin solution. And in that desperation of a nearly collapsed theatrical market, leave it to Paramount flexing its muscle in front of Netflix yet again to stave off the death of its deeper genre fare. What appeared a safer bet on multiplex screens six months ago, is now available in the homes of just about every subscriber on planet Earth. And that not only cheapens an experience, it only proves the studio system comedy may be further on the brink of extinction.

On paper, and in tightly edited promotion, The Lovebirds looked like a winner joining a pair of comedians whose legacies will forever be defined by their HBO starring roles. And yet, it is far from. Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and Issa Rae (Insecure) pose well in the name of sufficient chemistry, but even that is not saying much for this misguided rom-com wrapped in a high-octane (or lack thereof) murder plot. Do not let the title mislead, the romantic leads are on rocky shores after four years of supposed bliss as boyfriend and girlfriend. Jibrani (Nanjiani) is a documentary filmmaker on the cusp of completing his masterwork, while his partner Leilani (Rae) is an ad exec on a roll. And yet, they are fully on the skids, nearing a breakup, quibbles about social media etiquette and trashy reality shows becoming the bane of their points of conversation.

Just as all appears said and done between them, everything ratchets up to the nth degree when a dirty cop commandeers their car to catch a perp, and ultimately murder him amid a heavy blackmail case going the whole nine yards. Deeply embroiled as the lone suspects, Jibrani and Leilani spend a sleepless night in the New Orleans streets piecing together all the clues they can find on their own, their path dotted by rideshare singalongs, mysterious envelopes with detailed photographs, and a secret cult screaming a clash between Eyes Wide Shut and The Handmaid’s Tale. Not at all in a flattering manner.

If this concept for a plot appears familiar to you at all, do not let that be a surprise. A watered-down merger between what were the best elements of Shaun Levy’s Date Night, and Nanjiani’s own delightful starring role in last summer’s Stuber, Lovebirds easily offers the template for a speed-heavy barrel of laughs, but can’t deliver on landing them promptly. A far cry from director Michael Showalter’s previous films, even if his connectivity toward his actors has stayed consistent. This is quite the disappointing misstep following his previous gem The Big Short, still Nanjiani’s career-defining performance at every juncture. Not his fault, really; it is more the script that has failed him.

As mentioned above, our storyline appears overly dated the moment they mention The Amazing Race. After that, it is all out of joint, where the only laughs I got were from the sheer level of absurd ridiculousness played solely for shock value. This is not a compliment, unfortunately. Had this been done leaning more toward an action flick versus a rom-com with relationship therapy on the fly, surely it all could have played better. A loose passion project for LA Complex and Blindspot writers/producers/cast member Aaron Abrams, Brendan Gall, and Martin Gero, the passion is somewhat lacking if none of the jokes land right. There may be much adrenaline pumping through 86 minutes of screen time, but that is about it.

Nanjiani and Rae still give their best effort, a fun pair who carry this film firmly enough on their shoulders, while a small supporting cast fills out the landscape, in the least memorable fashion. As far as overall ensembles go, one could do much better. Kyle Bornheimer and Anna Camp provide some much-needed levity in one of the better-written sequences as a rival couple taking Ji and Leilani into their home on a citizen’s arrest, accompanied by one of the few gags carried over from the trailer that was still naturally hilarious. Meanwhile, Paul Sparks (Castle Rock) easily deserved a more substantial amount of time for his character to grow, playing the mysterious carjacker/crooked cop, known simply as Moustache. Again, not too many recognizable in the bunch, though Sparks will only continue to grow as a film actor with enough time.

To imagine at this point whether The Lovebirds could have still held its own on screens is mere fallacy now. In a more perfect world, Black Widow would’ve already pushed it out of its remaining screens by now. Its destiny was just proven too justly, given its flaws as a painfully unfunny comedy despite its leading pair trying their hardest to make it funny. Makes the most sense to drop it on Netflix for all the world, regardless of restrictions being lessened which will eventually see traditional theaters reopening. Not much of it works to its fullest potential, and I will not be the only one who will have been hoping for a little more substance. Though the fact that it is readily available in the media supply chain only furthers solidifies its re-watchability down the line. In five years, may its likely reappraisal affirm such a guarantee. Now, given the way things are, its short runtime will make the trip worth settling for. (C-; 2.5/5 Horns Up)

The Lovebirds is currently streaming on Netflix; rated R for sexual content, language throughout, and some violence; 86 minutes.