A boozing, swearing, smoking and womanizing screenwriter finds a formulaic and needy 8-year-old girl on his doorstep in “Kokowaah,” the latest feel-good concoction from Teuton megastar and producer-helmer Til Schweiger. Though the title seems indecipherable — it’s the child’s supposedly cute pronunciation of the kid-inappropriate dish coq au vin — pic itself is as easy as ABC, a series of mismatched-duo cliches spun out across a two-hour-plus running time. Though its $38 million haul makes it Germany’s highest grosser of 2011 so far, biz beyond central Europe, Schweiger’s only base, will again be minimal.
Colossal local success is not all that surprising, considering Schweiger offers auds a thinly veiled variation on three of his previous hits as star and director: “Barefoot” and the two “Rabbit Without Ears” films. The “Rabbit” pics told the story of a skirt-chasing reporter who ended up in a day-care center; here, the macho-man-meets-cute-kids formula is further milked for gentle laughs and predictable emotions, with Schweiger now playing Henry, a skirt-chasing scripter stuck in a financial and creative rut.
Henry’s offered work on an adaptation of a bestseller, though his agent is unaware that his client used to date the author of the tome, the beautiful and assertive Katharina (Jasmin Great). Their explosive relationship, which starts as a strictly professional one, is further complicated when, some 15 minutes in, a blond moppet with eyes as big as saucers, Magdalena (Emma Schweiger), shows up at Henry’s apartment, armed with a letter that says she’s Henry’s daughter.
Seems the kid’s mom, Charlotte (Meret Becker), is a former friend of Henry’s who’s gone to New York for a month. The fallout cues a whole range of “About a Boy”-ish situations, as melodrama surrounding the paternity issues — of which Magdalena and Katharina remain unaware — alternates with cute bonding sessions among the three, as well as some over-the-top scenes of slapstick, such as when Magdalena burns down the kitchen while trying to fry an egg.
One of the few elements that feels new here is a second male lead, Tristan (Samuel Finzi), who was always under the impression that he was Magdalena’s dad. While Schweiger could play his role in his sleep, and his own daughter Emma grimaces throughout as Magdalena, it’s Finzi who plays his character just right, avoiding stereotypes while making it clear he’d do anything for the girl he considers his daughter.
Like Schweiger’s previous films, the schematic “Kokowaah” relies heavily on musical montages to sustain momentum and generate that warm-and-fuzzy feeling. The pop songs, from artists including One Republic and Eskju Divine, even play under much of the dialogue, giving the impression that Schweiger is more of a deejay than a director, as he allows music rather than dialogue, performances and mise-en-scene to dictate the tone and emotions of a scene (though he’ll no doubt be comforted by the soundtrack sales).
Widescreen camerawork by regular d.p. Christof Wahl looks mostly classy, though overused swooping shots of happy people (set to those soft-pop ditties) make the pic at times feel like an extended life-insurance commercial. Editing is fluid within single scenes, but the current edit runs much too long; there’s a pretty decent if unoriginal 80-minute film hiding somewhere in this bloated two-hour-plus exercise.