Writer-helmer Carl Haber never brings the story up to speed in "The Wrong Mr. Johnson."

Clearly aiming for contempo screwball, Philadelphia-born writer-helmer Carl Haber never brings the story up to speed in “The Wrong Mr. Johnson,” a well-made but lackadaisical comedy of errors about mistaken identity and cultural divides. Pic lacks the propulsive energy to play far beyond local wickets and ancillary.

To raise cash to spring thuggish b.f. Vaclav (Hynek Cermak) from prison, timid 20-something Veronika (Klara Issova) agrees to cover for prostie pal Lucy (Klara Apolenarova) but picks up the wrong guy — good-natured jazz drummer Jim Johnson (Jeffrey Joseph) — at the airport. As they struggle with language issues and growing attraction, the “other” Jim Johnson (Nick Mancuso), an overbearing sex tourist, makes whoopee with groupie Sonya (Daniela Choderova) and call girl Apollonia (Czech chantoosie Lucie Vondrackova). Couples and newly sprung Vaclav eventually square off in the jazz club.

Mancuso lards a weird Southern drawl onto a wooden Jack Nicholson impression, while emerging talent Issova is winsome yet reserved. Elements of racial prejudice involving a black musician and the abusive Veronika/Vaclav relationship are handled with a bluntness that won’t travel well. Tech package is pro, featuring a warm and welcoming Prague. Mellow accordion-based jazz score slows momentum.

The Wrong Mr. Johnson

Czech Republic-U.S.

Production

A 51/50 (Czech Republic)/Cool Pool Films (U.S.) presentation. Produced by Carl Haber. Executive producers, Paul Wilkinson, Tomas Loewy. Directed, written by Carl Haber from a story by Haber, Antonio Iuorio.

Crew

Camera (color, HDV), Ales Blabolil; editor, Michal Lansky; music, Lou Forestieri; art director, Natalia Vasquez; costume designer, Carmen Burcea-Haber. Reviewed on DVD, Sydney, Feb. 20, 2008. (In Berlin Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 85 MIN.

With

Klara Issova, Hynek Cermak, Jeffrey Joseph, Nick Mancuso, Daniela Choderova, Lucie Vondrackova, Klara Apolenarova. (Czech, English dialogue)

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