Desperation loses out to resignation in “The Lovebirds,” a flailing couple-on-the-lam comedy that pairs up Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani, with indifferent results.
The “desperation” comes from the riffing. Maybe it’s a wild guess, but all the antic arguments, crosstalk/trash talk and occasional almost-funny zingers? They sound like stuff the stars and maybe folks in the crew came up with on set.
The “resignation” comes from realizing there’s nothing in the credited screenwriters’ credits that says “One Stop Comedy Shopping.” And the plot Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall (usually a producer) patched together should have been enough to scare off Nunjiani, his “Big Sick” director and Rae (queen of “Insecure”).
It’s “Stuber,” the last failed Kumail Nanjiani comedy, with an “Eyes Wide Shut” conspiracy and “Amazing Race” as a running gag. If that sounds like comedy gold, consider — you’ve picked up all that from the trailers, which are funnier than the finished film.
A prologue shows the one-long-date that followed a one-night hook-up Leilani and Jibran shared, the sparks that lead to the “relationship” that four years later, is coming to an end.
She thinks they could win “The Amazing Race,” he frets that “We can’t even agree on a RESTAURANT.”
They’ve barely decided “this isn’t working” when BAM, they hit a frantic cyclist. He dashes off, and they’re stopped — “POLICE! I need your CAR!”
The “cop” (Paul Sparks) proceeds to chase down, then before the word “JUSTICE” has finished leaving Jibran’s lips, run over — and over and over — his “suspect.”
Faced with judgy eye-witnesses who call them “murderers,” they flee into the gathering dusk of New Orleans, skipping the party they were headed to, trying to clear their names.
“Who do you think we are, Hobbs and SHAW?”
He’s all indecisive and snobby, a social justice documentary-maker who would never watch “The Amazing Race” because “I don’t need to see some reality show I know if gonna SUCK.”
She’s the smart-mouthed ad exec who knows just how to punch back. “You makes documentaries! Those are reality shows NO ONE WATCHES!”
Over the course of a dull, winded evening where the leads seem a step or two behind the audience EVERY step of the way, they dodge the police and hunt for clues.
They figure the cops have their description, and an intense eyeballing by a white officer in a cruiser means he is “TOTALLY onto us.” Only he drives on.
“Whew. He’s just a regular racist.”
There’s a frat boy looking fellow they catch and try to interrogate, with taunts of “Little Brett Kavanaugh” and “Chug-a-lug Chuck.”
Things only start to seem manageable — enduring threats and torture and injuries — when they realize the obvious.
“This is like ‘The Amazing Race with DEAD people!”
There’s nothing amusing in the set-up, the most interesting villain is a one-scene throw-away and the main villain is charisma-starved proof in the old adage, “Good villains make good (even funny-good) thrillers.”
Both Rae and Nanjiani have taken cracks at formulaic Hollywood comedies — him with “Stuber,” her with “Little.” The genre isn’t doing either of them any favors.
You can see they see this as they go through the motions of the film’s second and third acts. “This isn’t going to get any better,” their eyes say. “And doing a sing-along to a Katy Perry hit in a Lyft (share) isn’t going to help.”
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, language throughout and some violence
Cast: Issa Rae, Kumail Nanjiani, Anna Camp, Paul Sparks.
Credits: Directed by Michael Showalter, script by Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall. A Paramount release on Netflix.
Running time: 1:27