A breezy ensembler about five guys and their women/career problems, “Men in the City” could use some trimming around its paunchy midsection but finally shapes up to pack a feel-good punch. Strongly cast, flavorsomely lensed romantic comedy plays like a male, Berlin-set version of the female, Hamburg-set “Talk of the Town,” which initially triggered the genre’s revival in Deutschland back in 1995. Likable but hardly original pic, full of likable but hardly original characters, has minted a warm $20 million since early October, and would prove a crowdpleaser in offshore film weeks and cable slots.
As in “Talk,” a fitness center is common ground for all the characters, and it’s here that dorky, flabby Guenther (Christian Ulmen), a local government pen-pusher, compares notes with his polar opposite, buff and confident Jerome (Til Schweiger), a seemingly successful music producer. Where Jerome has hot-and-cold running babes, Guenther has a string of failed blind dates.
Also using the same gym is Philipp (Maxim Mehmet), a chronic dreamer with a business plan for a health burger bar that no one will back, and a pregnant g.f., Nina (Jana Pallaske), who thinks he’s a loser. In contrast, Philipp’s buddy, ad exec Niklas (Florian David Fitz), is an uber-control freak — except that he’s quietly panicking about his upcoming marriage to live-in partner, Laura (Liane Forestieri).
Script by actor-cum-director Simon Verhoeven — in only his second helming outing, after the 2001 youth comedy “100 Pro” — adheres to the genre’s well-worn tracks by constructing a jumping-off point for each character and gradually making their stories criss-cross. Pic takes a while to establish a tone and rhythm, which could be solved partly by tighter editing.
In the most charming strand, Guenther starts dating the nice but wary Susanne (Nadja Uhl), a supermarket checkout girl with a young son by her ex, Roland (Wotan Wilke Moehring), who has serious anger-management problems. Jerome, forced to make a success of a cheesy matinee singer, Bruce Berger (Justus von Dohnanyi), comes to realize the emptiness of his own life. And Niklas is thrown for a loop when he falls headlong for babelicious Maria (Danish-born Inez Bjorg David), a wannabe soap actress who’s temping as a fitness instructor.
Pic contains no great revelations about men or their emotional makeup that hasn’t figured in countless other romantic comedies, but the tony cast keeps things watchable even when Verhoeven’s script is marking time. Least engaging of the five guys is Moehring’s Roland, who has a boring, downbeat backstory; the least interesting of the partners is Forestieri’s Laura, a script device with no personality.
The rest of the cast melds well, either doing their usual schtick (Schweiger, Ulmen) or less glamorous versions of their usual screen personas (Uhl, Pallaske). TV thesp David makes a bright screen debut, partly parodying herself, and von Dohnanyi has huge fun as gay, middle-aged Bruce, good-humoredly spoofing a popular archetype in the German-speaking entertainment world.
Widescreen lensing by Jo Heim (“100 Pro”) gives the pic an echt-Berlin feel, with natural use of locations largely around Prenzlauer Berg.