“Jailbirds” is based on the unlikely idea of a rehab program that pairs convicts with female volunteers on the outside for the weekend, in the hopes that the latter’s influence will inspire the former to goodness and light. This try for a mainstream audience by cult comic director Detlef Buck (“No More Mr. Nice Guy”) has scored locally, grossing nearly 4 million marks ($ 2.75 million) by its second weekend. But part of its success comes from the names attached; the bulky story and German humor may not travel well theatrically.
Story follows two inmates (Buck, Til Schweiger) who get involved in the program so they can get out of jail long enough to do a bank job. After a number of misadventures, in which they only get themselves into even hotter water, they end up falling in love with their chaperones.
Buck’s subtle, laconic humor works as well as it did in his previous films, but this time the story is confused, the characters ill-sketched and the premise not entirely convincing.
Buck’s attitude here seems offhand. Best example is the opening scene, which parodies “Ben-Hur” as the prisoners have a wheelbarrowrace around the yard. Though the idea is nice, the execution is clumsy. Throughout the movie, Buck spends less time developing his characters than he does jumping around from plot point to plot point.
Where the film is most successful is in its casting. Director/co-writer Buck squeezes his cult status to the max as one of the convicts, and beefy sex idol Schweiger (“Der bewegte Mann”) plays the other. Though both play superficially etched characters, they’re a joy to watch, well teamed in their endearing denseness.
Newcomer Marie Baeumer is excellent as the down-to-earth femme who falls for Schweiger, but the real surprise is Heike Makatsch, a big-lipped, big-eyed presenter on both German music channel Viva and teen TV magazine Bravo, here making her screen bow. Playing a lisping, dumb blonde who sings like an angel and turns out to be smarter than all the others, Makatsch steals the show.
Technically, the film is a matter of taste. Buck intentionally chose hokey, neon-lit studio sets for almost all scenes, and both camera (Slawomir Idziak) and production design (Agi Dawaachu) tend to annoy after a while.