Ace Brit stars do what they can in too-cute ‘Salmon Fishing’

  • Thu Mar 22nd, 2012 10:57am
  • Life

By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic

Allegedly “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is based on a satirical novel that was recently popular in Britain. If so, the satire has been watered down in the movie version by a severe case of the cutes.

The premise insists that a Middle East sheikh (Amr Waked) spends a fortune creating a dam on a local river in order to create a salmon run. Oh yes, the venture might also help the peasants with irrigation and crops and all that, but the sheikh is really a great fly-fishing enthusiast.

He needs salmon, which, as you may have heard, are scarce in the desert. Two British government employees, played by Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt, are hired to speed that process along.

Although there’s a bit of sardonic joshing about how a British bureaucrat (Kristin Scott Thomas, in mischievous form) tries to manipulate this situation to make her prime minister look good, most of the movie plays out as a warm ‘n’ fuzzy experience. All men are brothers, and so are all fish, presumably.

Even though the characters played by McGregor and Blunt are married to other people at the beginning of the movie, we can be forgiven for having the sneaking suspicion that they might feel some attraction toward each other, by benefit of being the two best-looking people in the film.

Mind you, having handsome and charming people at the center of the picture is not a demerit for a movie like this. When “Salmon Fishing” works, which it occasionally does, it’s because bona fide movie stars are in the house.

McGregor, in particular, understands how to get laughs out of his fussy, skeptical fishing expert, a tweedy chap who must be convinced that this Arab ruler isn’t just wasting his time (and wasting a few thousand salmon, which must be air-lifted in from cooler waters).

Director Lasse Hallstrom is a talented filmmaker who really has a hit-and-miss record with his projects, and ultimately this one counts as a miss. The more it aims to tie everything together, the more bogus it gets.

The book was adapted by screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, who won an Oscar for “Slumdog Millionaire” and who jump-started the modern phase of feel-good British comedy with “The Full Monty.” He has a lot to answer for, starting with this project, which might have begun life as a sharp-toothed satire but ended up being neither fish nor fowl.

“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” (2 stars)

An Arab sheikh plans a dam project so he can import a salmon run to his desert country, a venture that drags in two British experts (Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt). The stars are appealing, but this wan romance has a severe case of the cutes, and it becomes more bogus as it goes along.

Rated: PG-13 for language.

Showing: Pacific Place, Guild 45th.