Building on the commercial proposition suggested five years ago in the late-middle-age romance “Last Chance Harvey,” writer-director Joel Hopkins once again attempts to woo the more mature cinemagoer with “The Love Punch,” a creaky heist-caper comedy that hopes to get by on sunny amiability. Reuniting with “Harvey” actress Emma Thompson, teaming here with Pierce Brosnan, Hopkins ups the stakes in terms of photogenic locations, ditching the picture-postcard London of the earlier film for Paris and the French Riviera. And with a solid cast that also includes Celia Imrie and Timothy Spall, the elements may be just seductive enough to sock targeted audiences into the ring.
Businessman Richard (Brosnan) and Kate (Thompson) are a divorced couple whom their best friends and neighbors, Jerry (Spall) and Penelope (Imrie), would love to see get back together. Richard, rebounding from his latest fling with a much younger woman, would like that, too. (“You get me,” he tells a resistant Kate. “That’s because I’m a trained child psychologist,” she replies.) Now, however, she faces an empty nest, bidding adieu to university-bound daughter Sophie (Tuppence Middleton) as she drives off to university. Her son, Matt (Jack Wilkinson), is
already in college.
Richard crashes back into Kate’s life when he sells his company to unscrupulous French financier Vincent (La Comedie Francaise’s Laurent Lafitte), imperiling their own pension plans as well as those of all his employees, who are suddenly made redundant. Inexplicably surprised by this turn of events, when even the most basic due diligence would have revealed Vincent to be a notorious asset stripper, Richard vows to fix the situation and persuades Kate to join him on a French adventure.
The pair receive short shrift at Vincent’s Paris HQ, and the story finally shifts into gear when they discover that the corporate raider has just bought a $10 million diamond necklace at auction for his beautiful fiancée, Manon (Louise Bourgoin), which she’s set to wear at their imminent nuptials on the Cote d’Azur. All the plucky Brits have to do is gatecrash the wedding in disguise (with the help of best buds Pen and Jerry, of course), nab the bling, fence it, and replenish everyone’s retirement fund.
A notable tonal departure from the more dramatically freighted “Jump Tomorrow” and “Last Chance Harvey,” “The Love Punch” reveals a filmmaker struggling to gain a foothold in the tricky terrain of antic comedy. Light on zingers and comic setpieces, Hopkins’ malnourished screenplay might have benefited from the hand of a collaborator; the filmmaker’s best idea is to throw a game Thompson into ungainly exertions as she attempts to infiltrate Manon’s tres sportif bachelorette beach party. The cast is consistently better than the weak material merits, and it’s mildly alarming to see Brosnan stuck in another strained effort so soon after the suicide-comedy misfire “A Long Way Down.”
Compensations include ample eye candy, with ritzy French locations supplying plenty of bang for the investors’ buck. D.p. Jerome Almeras (“I’ve Loved You So Long,” “In the House”) does pro work, but the score by Jean-Michel Bernard (“Be Kind Rewind”) struggles to convey the desired levity, when it’s not being elbowed aside by retro cuts such as Status Quo’s lumbering “Whatever You Want.”
Despite the sniffy critical reaction that presumably awaits “The Love Punch,” audiences may
nevertheless respond when the pic goes out in Blighty over Easter weekend through eOne, followed by Germany and Spain in May and June, respectively. A U.S. release date via Ketchup/Open Road has yet to be announced, following the pic’s acquisition a month after its Toronto bow in September.