Til Schweiger’s the marquee name but up-and-comer Nora Tschirner shares the performance crown in “Rabbit Without Ears,” an ultra-slick romantic comedy in which the multi-hyphenate Teuton hunk proves a generous director and co-star. Well-scripted yarn of a skirt-chasing journo meeting his match in a children’s day-care center topper has taken a strapping $27 million-plus on home turf in its first month, with legs still to go. Historically, such German crowdpleasers have been a tough sell offshore, though open-minded fests and film weeks should step up to the plate, if only to prove that Teuton cinema is not all doom and gloom.
Pacy opening reels show muck-raking Berlin reporter Ludo (Schweiger) and his regular photog, Moritz (Matthias Schweighoefer), careening through the celeb circuit in devil-may-care style. However, one escapade, in which Ludo ends up literally with cake on his face at the splashy engagement party of a heavyweight boxer and his g.f. (Wladimir Klitschko, Yvonne Catterfeld, playing themselves), lands the egotistical scribbler in court, where he’s sentenced to 300 hours of community service in a creche for eight-year-olds.
Ludo has no love for anklebiters or family life, despite entreaties from his sister, Lilli (Barbara Rudnik), to settle down. The even worse news is that the center is co-run by a certain Anna Gotzlowski (Tschirner), who’s still sore from being humiliated by him years ago when she was a geek at the same school. This time, Anna is determined to get even.
Schweiger has built a career out of playing cocky, good-looking macho types, often sending up his screen persona in the process. However, in East German-born Tschirner, 26, he finds an actress who can match him for the first time onscreen: From her first appearance, in glasses and semi-frumpy duds, she’s a winner, mixing determination and klutziness in a perf somewhere between a younger Diane Keaton and Sandra Bullock.
Initially, Ludo doesn’t remember her, though some witty flashbacks to their school days patch in the backstory for viewers, as well as providing a base for their future attraction. When all her attempts to wear him down with tough assignments come to naught — and Ludo even gets off with the hot-to-trot mother (Brigitte Zeh) of one of the kids — Anna finally calls a truce, especially after Ludo shows a caring side when his pesky nephew (Paul Maximilian Schueller) has to be rushed to hospital.
After its fizzy first hour, the pic turns softer as Anna’s dormant attraction to the egocentric womanizer starts to blossom — much to the amusement of her sex-obsessed flatmate and colleague, Miriam (Alwara Hoefels, getting some of the most salacious and funniest lines in the movie). From then on, pic becomes a more familiar will-they/won’t-they romantic comedy that could benefit from some tightening, though Tschirner’s perf does press the right emotional buttons in the final stages.
As he showed in his previous star-director outing, “Barefoot,” Schweiger is a skilled audience manipulator, delivering a lightly anti-establishment yarn wrapped up in a traditional, happy-ending format. “Rabbit Without Ears” has an even more confident tone, with the star seemingly satisfied to underplay and let other thesps shine. Cast is also dotted with bits by local names, from Juergen Vogel (playing himself) to members of popular spoofer Michael Bully Herbig’s team (including Rick Kavanian, as Ludo’s emotional boss).
Widescreen tech package is aces, with the same ochry, slightly autumnal look of “Barefoot.” Soundtrack is again laden with songs, to the detriment of dialogue in the latter half.