In ‘The Love Punch’, Money Does Buy Happiness

[28 August 2014]

By Nick Prigge

That The Love Punch fails so precipitously is made so puzzling because its premise and pedigree come pre-cooked in “can’t miss it” packaging. What can go wrong in asking two charismatic Brits, Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan, to act like Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief if they were re-telling Robin Hood, amusingly stealing from the fat cats as the economy burns to get what’s theirs? What could go wrong in so appealing a premise?

There is a moment when Richard (Brosnan) and Kate (Thompson), divorcees, hack into a web site to ascertain the identity of a mysterious French gazillionaire (Laurent Lafitte) who has just defrauded Richard’s company of all its money, leaving him, his ex-wife, his children, and all his employees twisting in the wind. And as they do, Kate suddenly shouts, “We’re in!” Then, she evaluates what she’s just exclaimed. “I’ve always wanted to say that,” she says.

In other words, The Love Punch is self-aware, uninterested in mining for real human emotion or genuinely commenting on what happens when a person’s financial portfolio in the current fiscal climate goes belly up. Instead, it decides to be a mild-mannered spoof of a crime caper, a silver screen variation on a Peter Mayle novel, chronicling the heist of a $10 million USD diamond the French gazillionaire has bought for his fiancé, Manon (Louise Bourgoin).

Director Joel Hopkins peppers in many hallmarks of the caper genre. There are innumerable Reservoir Dogs-esque shots of Richard and Kate and their eventual accomplices, Jerry (Timothy Spall) and Penelope (Cecilia Imrie) striding in slow motion. There are disguises and put-upon Texas accents and the sight of Emma Thompson donning a wet suit for a variation on an underwater break-in, and maybe that’s why ultimately she wanted to do the movie. Maybe she figured this was her last best chance to don a wet suit for an underwater break-in. Why there is even a car chase, Richard and Kate hastening after the prime villain upon being forcibly removed from his office. And the visual handling of this car chase speaks directly to the film’s aesthetic issues.

Hopkins is not a prolific director. He has made only three feature films, beginning with Jump Tomorrow in 2001, a breezy romantic comedy that excelled because it was on a much smaller scale. There he employed numerous static if handsomely eccentric frames to exemplary purpose. But in his ensuing films, 2008’s Last Chance Harvey and now this, he has attempted to broaden his filmmaking aesthetic, and not always for the better.

The car chase in The Love Punch is something of a mini-calamity, failing to negotiate the wide open spaces such an action-packed event requires, oddly opting for close-ups of the principal actors at bizarre moments and working in so many background shots of the Eiffel Tower that it becomes disorienting. It’s a sequence where you become hyperaware of the cuts rather than letting the cuts in succession wash over you.

Later, when Kate not-so-cleverly worms her way into Sophie’s inner circle, there is a scene when Hopkins cuts to her being forced to take a parasailing ride against her will. But all we see is another aberrant close-up of Kate aloft in the sky. Did Hopkins not have proper coverage of this sequence? Did the budget not allow for a full blown bout of parasailing? It’s problematic because its ill-advised staging negates the supposed punch line. All we can think as it happens is: “This doesn’t look right.”

But then, the majority of punch lines here are only punch lines in theory. Like, say, the sequences in which Mom and Dad enlist their son’s hacking services via Skype. Each time they do, their son momentarily leaves the room to employ a different computer at which point his collegiate roommate enters to unwittingly engage in a ribald act - going to the bathroom and/or pleasuring himself. This is the territory that The Love Punch mines for humor, and it stands at stark contrast with its elegant leading lady and poised leading man.

One ought give Ms. Thompson and Mr. Brosnan credit, and Ms. Imrie and Mr. Spall too, for gamely maneuvering through all these groan-inducing hijinks and suspect storytelling. The heist, in fact, is hardly plotted, obstacles so easily hurdled they barely register as obstacles at all. Meanwhile, Richard and Kate’s inevitable romantic re-kindling suffers as a result; it is intended to rise organically out of the heist’s complications, but because those complications barely evoke the word’s definition, they fail to genuinely incite the supposed re-kindling. Even worse, because Richard and Kate wind up with the precious stone and their subsequent millions, the underlining commentary is that money does buy happiness.

If there is one character with whom we can align it is, oddly enough, Manon, who begins as an alluring self-server before suffering a crisis of conscience and turning to Kate for life advice at which point she enlists herself as the thieves’ accomplice as a means to throw off her paramour’s shackles and merrily go it alone. She’s no rich man’s wife, and the only one in all The Love Punch who seems to genuinely be acting according to the whims of her soul.

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