The cinematic clock goes effortlessly back 40 years or so with “Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Park,” an old-fashioned battle-of-the sexes comedy in contempo, self-help dress. Slickly directed, sometimes over-the-top hunk of fluff helmed by Leander Haussmann (“Sun Alley”) throws political correctness to the winds and is undemanding, old-fashioned eye-candy for undemanding auds. Glossy production by German major Constantin has taken a sexy $6 million in its first three frames, despite sniffy reviews from serious German crix, though beyond Teuton territories it’s film-week fare at best.
Arthouse fans of Haussmann’s well-observed retro comedies on East Berlin life (“Berlin Blues,” “NVA”) are unlikely to tune in to this one. Pic seems to take mainstream Hollywood or European ’60s fare as its model, with bright visuals, unabashed play with stereotypes and even an upbeat score by big-band vet James Last thrown in for good measure. Script is inspired by the breezy self-help manuals of Aussie scribes Allan and Barbara Pease (“Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps,” “Why Men Don’t Have a Clue … and Women Always Need More Shoes!”), but the plot is original.
Billing itself as an “educational film” — with Haussmann himself as the offscreen narrator — pic intros skirt-chasing, football-loving Berlin lawyer Jan (Benno Fuermann), who’s about to score with his latest pickup, Melanie (Annika Kuhl), when headstrong publishing exec Katrin (Jessica Schwarz) scrapes his beloved car while parking. As Jan gets into a major kerfuffle with Katrin, Melanie and Jan’s friend, Ruediger (Matthias Matschke), instantly fall for each other.
Two years later, Jan and Katrin are living together but still spatting, and Melanie and Ruediger are blissfully married. Jan still has the sexual instincts of a gorilla — eyeing a dumb blonde, Angie (Nadja Becker), who comes for a job interview — but gets unreasonably jealous when Katrin seems to get too friendly with bestselling author and ethnologist, Jonathan Armbruster (Uwe Ochsenknecht).
Plot soon hits the farce button as Jan pursues Angie, Ruediger gets itchy now that Melanie is heavily pregnant, and Katrin can’t decide whether to accompany Jonathan to the U.S. on a business trip. Pieces click neatly together at the midpoint with a naked Jan chased through the west Berlin streets by Angie’s biker lover, Sven (singer-songwriter Sasha Schmitz).
Pic is thoroughly retro in feel, from Fuermann’s and Schwarz’s duds to the breezy view of relationships and ground rules. Both thesps handle the verbal and physical shtick OK, especially the excellent Schwarz (“The Red Cockatoo”), though the largely male-centered script shortchanges her character. Where the movie goes seriously overboard is in the fantasy sequences of Jan and Katrin as hairy hunter-gatherers, directly visualizing their primeval instincts (including a parody of “2001: A Space Odyssey”).
Stripped of its faux “educational” trappings, which increasingly get in the way as the plot develops its own momentum, pic would have worked equally well as a light rom-com. Still, Fuermann undeniably has his moments as Jan, playing the sexual shark like a mustachioed renegade from a Preston Sturges comedy, and Schwarz has the physical presence to stand up to his antics. Rest of the name-studded cast, including a wild Florentine Lahme as a horny airline pilot, play it for laughs.