Netflixable? Romance finds a backup in “Always be My Maybe”

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With the theatrical studios generally unable to find their way through budget bloat and “star-vehicle” burdens to deliver light, frothy romantic comedies, Netflix has found itself a niche that it can have almost all to itself.

“The Set Up” announced the streaming service’s arrival in the genre with a bang. “Always be My Maybe” underscores it, cute modern romances for the “Why go out, we have Netflix?” set.

“Maybe” makes passable use of its comic-romantic leads, comic turned comic-actress Ali Wong and comic actor Randall Park, in a San Francisco tale set against the affluence of high-end dining in the City Too Expensive for Real People to Live In Anymore.

And if you’re thinking, as I was, “This isn’t quite good enough to find an audience in actual theaters,” be patient. The big laughs finally show up in a burst near the midway point, shortly before Keanu Reeves arrives for his killer cameo, and linger for a few minutes after he departs the scene.

Sasha and Marcus have been friends since childhood when they grew up next door to each other. She’s Chinese-American, growing up as a latchkey kid with workaholic parents she rarely sees. Marcus is the darling of his doting Korean-American parents’ eye, and they always have an extra spot at the table for little Sasha.

“Are you sure you’re not Korean?”

His mom (Susan Park) taught her to cook. And when she died, Marcus wasn’t the only one who felt he’d lost his mother.

The high school best friends had one night of something like pity sex (“Hey, where’d you get that condom?” “Uh, seventh grade…”), split up and went their separate ways.

“Always be My Maybe” is about them re-finding each other; Sasha as a buzzed-about LA chef opening a new restaurant in her old hometown, Marcus as the same old goof, still playing in his bar band, Hello Peril, still working with his dad installing and fixing HVAC systems in San Fran.

The three screenwriters, including Wong and Park, know how to set up “obstacles” to this renewed relationship. She’s engaged to her hunky older manager (Daniel Kae Kim), constantly on her phone, working like mad. He’s “stuck,” still doing dainty, cute hip hop and dating a daffy activist/poet (Vivian Bang).

She’s impressed by his HVAC coveralls.

“So you’re like…the air conditioner guy?”

“Nooooo. I just like the convenience of a onesie.”

“You look like a homeless astronaut!”

He’s underwhelmed by her “trans-denominational fusion” cuisine.

“Always be My Maybe” floats along, quite low to the ground, poking fun at San Fran’s all-encompassing LGBTQIA gender blurring, lame Spanx jokes, ridiculing “that racist lady” cook, Paula Deen and laughably pretentious cuisine, all set against the same sheen of gauche affluence of say, a “Crazy Rich Asians” or most of Tyler Perry’s non-Madea comedies.

There’s a little Netflix mockery, the odd goof on their race vs. The Dominant Culture.

“White people eat that s— up!”

Wait for the big phone tantrum, and lean forward in your seat. Because that’s the signal that Keanu Reeves, playing a cockier, more Summer’s Eve version of how we think of “Cool Keanu,” is arriving. Listen to him order at the higher-than-high-end restaurant they all wind up in.

“Do you have any courses that play with the concept of….time?”

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That sequence makes the movie. The picture, which lurches from cute to “cutesy” a bit too often for my taste, fizzes out after Keanu has left the building, but finds a little sentimental kick for the finale.

Its most interesting moments are little peeks inside the West Coast Asian American culture it’s set in — Marcus and his dad (James Saito) enjoying a father-son exfoliating massage, Sasha getting over her food snobbery at a little “traditional” Cantonese eatery.

Park is plainly better at the whole “best joke on the set” improv thing than Wong.

About Jenny — “She sleeps bottomless, like a sexy Asian Winnie the Pooh!”

The story gives away its direction and intentions far too early and obviously. But these onetime “Fresh off the Boat” co-stars make a cute, cuddly couple that we root for, even if every joke doesn’t land, even if they let that devilish Keanu steal their movie from them.

2half-star6

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, drug use/references, and language

Cast: Ali Wong, Randall Park, Susan Park, Michelle Buteau and Keanu Reeves

Credits: Directed by Nahnatchka Khan , script by Michael Golamco, Randall Park, Ali Wong A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:42

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