It’s not every day you see beauteous Gina Gershon channeling Professor Kelp, Jerry Lewis’ classic buck-tooth nerdy science teacher from “The Nutty Professor.” But once the novelty of that has worn off, “Kettle of Fish” — a likeable attempt to resurrect romantic farce — flounders. Screwball scenario, self-consciously constructed via academic, classically-derived templates by tyro scribe/helmer Claudia Meyers, proves an uneasy fit for mature leads Gershon and Matthew Modine, who struggle valiantly to appear clueless enough to make their characters’ goofy behavior credible. Theatrical prospects for indie production appear marginal, with ancillary outlook considerably brighter.
The only long-term relationship that playboy sax player Mel (Modine) has ever successfully maintained is the one with his beloved goldfish Daphne. Approaching 40, Mel resolves to make a commitment and moves in with his latest fling Inga, subletting his Gotham apartment to reptilian biologist Ginger (Gershon), in New York from England to study the sexual behavior of frogs.
But, after wedding-gowned Diana (Christy Cashman), in her haste to board a ferry, literally leaps into his arms, Mel falls madly in love, ignoring the fact that the bride was running to, not away from, her wedding ceremony.
Ejected from Inga’s apartment, Mel moves back to his apartment, although Ginger refuses to relinquish her sublet and also stays. A goodly amount of sexual hostility ensues, the sparks flying between Mel and Ginger in the approved generic tradition of the screwball comedy playbook.
But Mel, blind to the attraction, chivalrously lopes off after Diana.
A subplot involving the improbable cross-species attraction between Mel’s goldfish and Ginger’s frog Casanova not only reunites the destined lovers but provides a pretext for some Hawksian references as the couple crawls around on all fours chasing animals.
Director Meyers is obviously a serious movie buff and has rendered her characters with familiar, if gender-bended strokes. Her scientist heroine, though largely modeled on Lewis’ Kelp (lest anyone should miss it, Gershon’s fellow-scientist suitor is actually named Kelp), also contains healthy doses of Cary Grant’s impatient paleontologist in “Bringing Up Baby” and a dash of Henry Fonda’s unsophisticated ophiologist in “Lady Eve.”
Meanwhile, Modine’s girlish romanticism descends from even more distant cinematic roots: Racing to the rescue while standing upright in a hansom cab, he looks more like a Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd naïf than a 21st century sax-playing lothario.
Midwestern blonde rich girl Diana seems like a shiksa fugitive from a Woody Allen or Elaine May movie.
Pic contains its share of viable gags and stars generate a certain degree of convincing chemistry. But eventually, the seams in personality design and artificially stitched-together script construction begin to show, and “Kettle” starts to lack internal logic or forward propulsion as the characters are bonelessly picked up and plopped down from scene to scene.
HD tech credits look pro.