After The Big Sick, a reunion between Michael Showalter and Kumail Nanjiani should leave me more enthused. Add Issa Rae, and that’s doubly true. Alas, The Lovebirds sings no sweet songs of romance or comedy throughout this madcap date-night-gone-deadly scenario. Scripting relies upon the same quirky relationship notes we’ve time after time seen bent out of shape then hammered back into form. Nanjiani and Rae represent two of today’s comedic powerhouses, but The Lovebirds doesn’t support such a claim. “Love is hard, and it’s harder when there’s a murderer on your tail.” Laughable in conceptualization, but unfortunately familiar as criminal proceedings attempt to tug at our heartstrings.
Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae) are four years into their bicker-constant relationship and *well* out of honeymoon period. It’s en route to a dinner party that the couple realizes they’d be better off separated, just as an undercover lawman hijacks their vehicle – then runs over a frantic bicyclist. It turns out their driver isn’t a policeman, and now the quarreling partners think they’re prime suspects for murder. Jibran and Leilani must clear their name by tracking down the lone gunman who ruined their evening, and maybe save whatever united future could exist through unprecedented extremes.
It’s a story about keeping the proverbial flame aflicker after years of comfortable routines. Jibran and Leilani exist as the “lame” stereotypes who schedule intercourse into their weekly plans because spontaneity no longer exists – which is combated by illegality and forced accomplice fates. How crazy! Who could have seen that coming! It’s admittedly a fun premise that might or might not get cult freaky as government officials play kidnapper (with bonus bacon grease), but never fun enough. Interrogation scenes, framed killings, masked socialites? It sounds like my style of genre mashup, and it usually is, when lower-hanging gags don’t become the hum-drum norm.
As Nanjiani and Rae jab at each other, they’re able to score sporadic points throughout “arguments” that last far too long. Debates about whether they’d win The Amazing Race or other superfluous chatter. There’s a constant fixation on dialogue that dumbs down our appropriately shaken “heroes,” which lessens their appeal as plot points bring them closer together. The Lovebirds is not without laughs, but nowhere near the amount that Nanjiani and Rae deserve. Maybe that’s because we always inevitably know where the action subplots will lead? Perhaps because jokes are of a stammer-for-five-straight-minutes variety that becomes witless and tiresome. In either case, one might wonder what either comedian saw in such generalized buffoonery.
New Orleans provides a farcical, non-sweaty backdrop of beaded drunks and lethargic seediness, but what’s missing is a broader cast of characters who can support Nanjiani and Rae. Anna Camp, as the torture-happy picture of white American privilege, earns her stay in one stable (for animals) scene where she punishes the unknowing ex-at-the-time lovebirds. Otherwise, talents like Kyle Bornheimer and Paul Sparks are left to play nameless cogs in Showalter’s no-frills canoodling caper. We’re talking about a masterplan that involves blackmail photos and secret erotic interludes, yet I’m using descriptors like “nameless” and “lethargic.” It doesn’t add up, especially where entertainment value is concerned.
The thing is, in streamable terms, The Lovebirds is harmless. It’s disappointingly toothless and not the knockout romance we’d expect from such fantastical circumstances, but there’s a wee bit of fun worth a boredom-induced watch. Nanjiani sells physical abuse well, bruised and battered, while Rae’s real-talk charisma proves why we’d be excited to see her go blow-for-blow with Nianjiani (both hilarious separately). A few beats get it right. The frat-bro interrogation, a rideshare Katy Perry singalong, and the gobsmacked duo’s incompetence in the face of danger all ring loudest. There are glimmers of the superteam these professional humorists should make, but the word “glimmers” is the problem.
The Lovebirds will make you chuckle, and it’s easy to root for our titular culprits, yet there’s never a moment where humor or sincerity rises above basic rom-com silliness. It’s a certifiable “WTF!” scenario that never makes you scream “WTF!” aloud. What should be a showcase for Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae feels dialed-in and lacking direction that sets apart yet another zany ode to rekindled embers from any other subgenre comparison. Point cameras, shoot footage and move on. That’s the impression many scenes present, versus how something like Date Night plays in the same danger-sexy sandbox with stronger comedic chops. This is more one-note, and that note’s a tad on the flat side.
The Lovebirds may unite two comedic heavyweights but always feels like its punching above its weight class (which is a commentary on scripted shortcomings, I assure you).