One of the earliest big screen casualties of the coronavirus theater closings was “The Lovebirds”. Paramount was in the middle of a pretty hefty promotional campaign when the coronavirus pandemic shut down movie houses and multiplexes around the globe. In a surprise move the film was sold to Netflix and now set to release on their streaming platform tomorrow.
The film is directed by Michael Showalter who earned critical acclaim for his 2017 comedy “The Big Sick”. He follows it up with “The Lovebirds”, a film that reunites him with Kumail Nanjiani and adds rising star Issa Rae. Their movie plays like a slightly edgier “Date Night” (remember that Steve Carell/Tina Fey flick) but without the memorable supporting players. Instead everything here rides on the backs of the two able leads who are forced to carry the load.
Everything starts rosy for Jibran (￼Nanjiani), an introvert who makes documentaries, and Leilani (Rae), a social go-getter works at an ad agency. They really hit it off on their first date and the lovestruck couple seem destined to be together. Fast-forward four years and the two are still an item but hardly the starry-eyed romantics they once were. They find themselves arguing over the most inconsequential stuff (like whether or not they could win “The Amazing Race”). This couple who once looked like a match made in Heaven now are on the verge of calling it quits.
But something crazy happens on the drive to a dinner party. While arguing (again) Jibran hits a guy on a bike who darts out in front of their car. The man gets up and speeds off, but another man claiming to be cop takes the wheel and runs the cyclist over – literally…over and over. He then takes off leaving Jibran and Leilani to take the heat. Rather than wait for the police, the two panic and run away setting up a night of close calls and off-the-cuff detective work as they try to clear their name.
Nicely set within the not-so touristy parts of New Orleans, “The Lovebirds” bounces Jibran and Leilani around the city dropping them into one ludicrous scenario after another. They start out silly but undeniably amusing such as when they’re abducted and forced to play “Let’s Make a Deal” with a saucy Southern vixen (a really fun Anna Camp). But their predicaments get more ridiculous as we go, topping off with an absurd aristocratic sex cult sequence à la “Eyes Wide Shut”. It’s something that I’m sure looked better on paper than on screen.
And then you have the mystery/conspiracy itself (if you can find enough meat on its bones to even call it that). It’s half-baked and barely held together. It completely fizzles out by the end while the antagonist is as generic and paper-thin as any you’ll ever see. I get that these things are secondary and are only there to offer up moments for Nanjiani and Rae to do their thing. But the stakes seem like an afterthought and if it’s going to be a fundamental part of your story it should at least be mildly convincing.
The movie finds its dual saviors in Nanjiani and Rae. It’s at its strongest when the two charismatic leads are bouncing barbs back-and-forth or bickering over frivolous nonsense in the face of various dangers. Nanjiani is solidly within his comfort zone while Rae continues to open eyes and turn heads. I wouldn’t say they are brimming with romantic chemistry, but as a comedy duo they pair up nicely doing a lot with little and ultimately keeping “The Lovebirds” afloat.
VERDICT – 3 STARS