** (out of four)
If subjected to a movie about a niche sport in a distant place, I’d admittedly much rather see “Ping Pong in Bora Bora” or “Jai Alai Atop Mount Everest.”
Still, it’s odd how clearly the characters in “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” recognize the inanity of the film’s premise. “Who the hell cares?” asks Harriet (Emily Blunt) at one point about her efforts to work with Dr. Fred Jones (Ewan McGregor) in hopes of satisfying a sheikh’s (Amr Waked) dream of introducing salmon to the desert so he can fish for them. Despite his desire to unite and feed people and blah blah blah, that’s still a perverse dream—would anyone help if he wanted to place and then kill grizzly bears in the downtown area? Yet the movie from director Lasse Hallstrom (“Chocolat”) and writer Simon Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and based on Paul Torday’s novel, tries to find uplift in place of creepiness.
Kristin Scott Thomas adds zest as the British prime minister’s press secretary, and the charming Blunt and ever-vanilla McGregor establish a nice rapport until the movie, desperate to save itself from itself, forces them to consider being more than colleagues. Fred’s already had it with his unhappy marriage, but Harriet’s still wondering about her military boyfriend (Tom Mison) of three weeks who’s missing in action. Romantic complications provide a welcome distraction from dry talk of fishing and the faith it takes to believe you’ll catch a fish, but that doesn’t mean the movie works any better.
“Salmon Fishing” is almost worth seeing simply for the jarring shifts in tone. Most of the time we’re gliding along lightly until whoa! Did Fred just thwart an assassination attempt with his fishing line? OK, all’s well now, the sun is out and people are smiling and hey! A faceless protester just snapped somebody’s neck in an attempt to sabotage the sheikh’s mission.
The tale might be fluffy beach reading, but it’s weird when the beach is occasionally overrun with pirates.
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