The romantic formulas in “Venus & Mars” are even simpler than the basic astrological signs that seem to guide its lovers. Lensed in Germany’s Thuringia region in 2000 and given a Teuton release the next year, this adult fairy tale pabulum is entirely German-financed although conceived (by screenwriter Ben Taylor, adapting his novel) in English. It strains every which way to have mainly Americans speak on screen and keep the locals mute, even though the action is set in a German village. Pic is only now getting a nominal U.S. theatrical opening, before its inevitable cable run on women’s oriented outlets.
Discovering her soccer coach husband dead, Emily Vogel (Lynn Redgrave) gets in touch with her daughter Kay (Daniela Amavia). Kay, in turn, passes the word on to her girlhood soccer friends Lisa (Julie Bowen), Celeste (Fay Masterson) and Marie (Julia Sawalha), with whom she lived in Himmelsgarden, near a U.S. air base. Another resident was American Roberto (Ryan Hurst), who went to school with the gals and stayed on as a cabby.
The first hour is a leisurely affair of harmless comedy and character touches which establish Kay as a beautiful but slightly testy woman when it comes to love matters. And, love emerges for her in the form of impossibly good-looking hunk Cody (yet another American, played by Michael Weatherly).
Emily’s astrological card reading indicates that love will bloom when Venus and Mars align, and Lisa takes the prediction much too seriously as she haplessly pursues wealthy realtor Andre (Manou Lubowski). Roberto warns her Andre is gay, but Lisa ignores that, along with Roberto’s feelings for her.
With a radically different tone, the setting and various parts of “Venus & Mars” would have been just the thing for the late Rainer Werner Fassbinder. In vet TV director Harry Mastrogeorge’s hands, however, it plays as pure formula, with the fates of various characters predictable from extremely early in the film.
A potentially more dramatic and fractious family backstory, among other backstories, involving Kay and Emily is only unveiled late in the game, stuffing the third act with contrived revelations and robbing Redgrave of at least two or three additional, emotionally effective scenes.
Thesping and production values are solid and sometimes even attractive, but pic’s overall American-style gloss becomes extremely odd and discomforting given the setting. Even in scenes in which German-born characters are alone on screen together, they speak English, rendering pic as much a study in the fear of having German spoken on screen as it is a fantasy about love.