No laughing matter

20 May 2017

9:00 AM

20 May 2017

9:00 AM

We love Amy Schumer. Fact. And we love Goldie Hawn. Fact. But can we love Snatched? Not so much, if at all. Perhaps the addition of ‘if at all’ is unnecessary, and rather mean. But it’s done now.

There are a couple of decent jokes, it’s true, but they are 1) all in the trailer and 2) happen within the first ten minutes, after which there is every chance you will 1) lose the will to live and 2) wish you’d opted for Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur. But, as we are so often warned, do be careful what you wish for. From what I’ve heard, King Arthur may not only make you lose the will to live but may also make you regret ever having lived. (Too much again? Done now.)

Directed by Jonathan Levine (50/50) and written by Katie Dippold (The Heat, Ghostbusters), the film opens with Amy as Emily, ostensibly. In truth, it’s Amy as Amy, but we love Amy as Amy, like I said, and love her bawdy, embarrassing loser shtick, but the trick is to allow her to run with it, and not have her puff laboriously uphill until she becomes plain annoying, as happens here. At the outset, she’s a sales assistant who is fired from her job in a dress shop — ‘I wouldn’t work here if you paid me!’ she says, which is one of the two decent jokes — and then her boyfriend dumps her. He wants to play the field. There are hundreds of pussies out there, he says. But you can use my pussy a hundred times! she remonstrates. ‘Not so inspiring,’ he retorts. That’s the second one.

But now the Amy that is Emily (ostensibly) has a problem. She and her boyfriend were due to take a trip to Ecuador and the holiday is non-refundable. No friend will agree to accompany her so she appeals to her mother Linda (Hawn). Linda is a divorcee who lives with Emily’s agoraphobic brother (Ike Barinholtz) and, of course, many beloved cats. I once, genuinely, met an older divorcee who owned not a single cat, beloved or otherwise. I know. I was as amazed as you are.

This is, essentially, a buddy-buddy caper movie featuring two characters who are initially estranged — Emily rarely contacts her mother — and who are also opposites personality-wise: Emily is up for anything and out there; Linda is super-cautious and suburban. It’s a perfectly good idea for a comedy, so much so it’s been done to death. But without any new smarts, it quickly becomes a predictable bore. (Will the two have bonded by the end; will they?) The main plot device has them kidnapped by Columbians — all foreigners are bad, bad people by the way — escape, be recaptured, escape, and so on and so on. They’re forever getting into pickles, so it’s set piece after set piece and sometimes the film is so sloppily lazy it doesn’t even bother joining them up. In one instance, they are lost in the jungle and Amy passes out and the next thing you know she’s coming round in a doctor’s hut in some village. How did she get there? Did her mother carry her all the way? Is she the kind of older divorcee who lives with cats and is also very, very strong?

Amy plus Goldie should equal comedy gold, but you can’t simply put two talents in the same space and expect laughs. Plus, everything is working against them. The script often falls flat — what should be mother-daughter banter often comes across as mother-daughter sniping — while Levine’s direction is prosaic, and shows no feel for how gags work, how long a gag should be allowed to play out, or even what is funny and what is not. For example, if there is a hilarious way of killing a bad, bad foreign person by whacking them round the head with a shovel, he does not locate it here. Meanwhile, subsidiary characters mooch about in the form of Joan Cusack, Wanda Sykes and Christopher Meloni, but are so cartoonish they don’t bring anything to the party.

There is no character development at all. Obviously, one wasn’t expecting Terms of Endearment, but the two leads are so thinly sketched it prevents any moments of genuine emotion, and gives us no reason to like them. Indeed, by the end the Amy that is Emily (ostensibly) just seems wilfully immature while Linda remains not much of anything at all. (She just screams a lot, reactively.) This is Hawn’s first film for 15 years and if you’d never seen her in anything else (Cactus Flower! Private Benjamin!) you might wonder what all the fuss was about. Yet let’s hope it somehow encourages her to get out more. But in better films. Much, much better films. (Unnecessary? Done now.)

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