Review: The Lovebirds re-discover love over one crazy, middling night

Given the inauspicious start to the straight-to-streaming lockdown movie slate, Netflix’s The Lovebirds is refreshingly mediocre. As captives, we’ve recently been fed some proper dogshit, but then, what’s this…? A little tea sandwich? Sure, at a slim 81 minutes with its credits crust cut off, it’s meatless and not going to fill anyone up, but it’s fine, uncomplicated, modest sustenance you’ll neither regret nor have to chew much on.

Seemingly torn from the early Touchstone Pictures playbook, the film lies somewhere between Adventures in Babysitting and the broader concept of having a couple comic actors paired up to have a faint, arbitrary crime plot draped over them. HBO breakouts Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani star as a couple at the end of their relationship. On the way to a dinner party, the two finally call it quits, but en route they end up being implicated in a murder, sending them on the run in an attempt to absolve themselves. But, as Nanjiani so plainly lays out 20-some minutes in, if the two couldn’t solve their relationship problems, can they solve the crime??? Or, hey, maybe they can solve both in under an hour!

For a One Crazy Night scenario, The Lovebirds isn’t all that crazy of a night. The genre typically bombards with a relentless stream of crazy incidents and kooky characters, and both are in short supply here. The movie only has about a dozen scenes total, and a torturous but otherwise unmemorable Anna Camp is practically their only run-in. Director Michael Showalter otherwise fills in the supporting roles with lazy, dated archetypes like “overly-sensitive hipsters” and “frat boys in rugby shirts and backwards ball caps who, inexplicably, are still listening to Third Eye Blind.” They’re such on-the-nose stock characters that the former are credited as Mr. and Mrs. Hipster, and the latter, despite being murder victims nowhere near a college campus, are referred to by a detective as “dead frat boys. The climactic reveal of an Eyes Wide Shut-style secret society of elites who wear plague doctor masks for orgies is such a threadbare parody it barely even registers as exceptional. (With Showalter, Nanjiani, and Rae all also serving as executive producers, could they not at least get a fun cameo from a comedy ringer in there?)

The Lovebirds cost a reported $16 million. Even by Hollywood rom-com standards, that’s pretty cheap—and it looks it, too. That it’s set in New Orleans instead of, say, the more common New York City, feels less like a creative choice than a grab at the South’s plentiful production tax credits. In one of the film’s scant set pieces—this thing is begging for at least one decently adventurous scene that never comes—Nanjiani points out that the guy they’re chasing is “going in circles; what an idiot!” Again, it seems less a joke than a lampshade on the fact that they could only get a single block closed down to shoot. And though no one bothered to buy a suppressor for the villain’s prop gun, Showalter nonetheless dubs it over with a silenced shot’s pssht!

The script fills in for the lack of action with some very chatty dialogue that was almost certainly fluffed up considerably by its leads. (A rant about milkshakes may well have been Nanjiani testing a standup bit.) Rae and Nanjiani chew into it rapidfire and, while little of it is really laugh-out-loud funny, they’re affable enough to keep things rolling and pull off some convincing moments of chemistry along the way. Her cucumber compliments his cream cheese, and it’s not half bad sandwiched in the white bread of Showalter’s direction. But nibbling it across an entire night doesn’t make it a meal.

Grade: C

The Lovebirds
Director: Michael Showalter
Studio: Netflix
Runtime: 87 minutes
Rating: R
Cast: Issa Rae, Kumail Nanjiani, Paul Sparks, Anna Camp, Kyle Bornheimer

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