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The Lovebirds (A Movie Review)

The Lovebirds


Starring Kumail Nanjiani, Issa Rae, Paul Sparks, Anna Camp, Nicholas X. Parsons, Kyle Bornheimer, Barry Rothbart, Catherine Cohen, Andrene Ward-Hammond, Robert Larriviere, Lisha Wheeler, Shannon Nicole, Moses Storm, Nelson Rafael Cepeda, Casey Hendershot, Aaron Abrams, Joe Chrest, Blaine Kern and Briana Liu.

Screenplay by Aaron Abrams & Brendan Gall.

Directed by Michael Showalter.

Distributed by Netflix. 87 minutes. Rated R.

Last year when I interviewed Kumail Nanjiani about his then upcoming film Stuber, I asked him if he was concerned about getting typecast as an Uber driver, which he played in both that film and also his breakout hit The Big Sick.

“Oh, that’s the plan,” Nanjiani laughed good naturedly. “I’m not afraid of it. That’s my career path. That’s what I want.”

Well, The Lovebirds spends much of its time in a Lyft rather than an Uber. And Nanjiani’s character is one of the passengers, not the driver. So that’s something new.

There is not much else new in The Lovebirds. In fact, specifically, the film feels a whole hell of a lot like Stuber, an action comedy with Nanjiani playing an innocent who is suddenly thrust randomly into a world of crime, murder and mayhem and trying desperately solve the mystery and to survive as the same time as trying to figure out his messed up love life.

It’s just this time out, his partner in the adventure isn’t a jacked and violent cop played by Dave Bautista, it’s his beautiful girlfriend – played by Issa Rae. They are in the midst of a breakup because their life is boring. They find excitement and a spark in their relationship through watching people get murdered and having to desperately evade the police, who undoubtedly feel the couple is responsible for the killings.

The Lovebirds is also extremely reminiscent of the Tina Fey/Steve Carell film Date Night, or a less gimmicky version of the Jason Bateman/Rachel McAdams movie Game Night, just with a couple of color at the center of the mayhem.

Honestly, The Lovebirds has some fun and funny moments, but it’s not as good as Stuber. Or Date Night. Or Game Night. And none of those movies could be mistaken for a masterpiece. The Lovebirds has an eccentric and oddball sense of humor and structure that makes it stand out a bit, but it also makes the movie hard to buy into for a viewer.

Jabril (Nanjiani) and Leilani (Rae) are a New Orleans couple whose relationship has grown ice cold after four years together. While driving together to some friends’ party, they have the latest in a series of escalating squabbles, which leads to the decision to break up. Right after that happens, the couple’s SUV is smashed into by a guy on a bicycle.

They try to get the guy to go to a hospital, but he dazedly gets up and rides away. Moments later a man starts banging on their window, shouting that he is a policeman and the bicyclist is a criminal he has been chasing. He commandeers the truck and drives them in a high-speed chase with the guy on the bike. They suddenly realize that this guy may not be a cop when he runs the cyclist down, and then backs up over him to make sure he is dead.

The “cop” disappears into the night, and some witnesses think that Jabril and Leilani killed the man. Instead of trying to explain to the real police, the couple fear they will be suspected, so they decide to go on the run and investigate what happened. Their misadventures trying to find out what is going on strangely brings the couple closer together.

Like many, or most, romantic action comedies, the crime story is just ridiculous. That said, there are enough relatable moments and slyly funny punchlines to make The Lovebirds an undemanding evening watch. This is particularly true because the film’s theatrical run was scuttled by the novel coronavirus pandemic, and it ended up debuting on Netflix. The Lovebirds fits in squarely with the light comic vibe of many Netflix movies.

Nanjiani and Rae are probably a bit too good for these roles and this movie. Still, there may be some method to Nanjiani’s madness.

“I want to do action stuff,” Nanjiani explained to me in that interview last year. “Doing [Stuber], I was like, oh, I want to learn to do this type of acting, which is very different from any kind of acting that I have done. I had a great time doing it, and I want to get good at it.”

Well, The Lovebirds is proof that Nanjiani has gotten good at it. Arguably better than the actual film was worthy of. However, if he can’t always play an Uber driver, maybe he can make a career at this kind of throwaway action comedy. Honestly, it feels like a bit of a waste of his quirky talents to limit himself to this style, but if he finds some better scripts, maybe it’ll be a good thing.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2020 All rights reserved. Posted: May 24, 2020.

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