I don’t know about you, but when the opening shot of a film boasts Emma Thompson hoisting a very large and very shaken martini immediately followed by Pierce Brosnan sidling into frame and elegantly sipping the same, you’ve more than got my attention. Add a beautifully intimate and colorful garden wedding and crisp, sharp sunlight cinematography to the mix, and I’m hooked. Then garnish with some quick-witted snappy dialogue, and I know I’m in for a treat. And a treat is exactly what THE LOVE PUNCH is. Packing the one-two punch of Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson, writer/director Joel Hopkins then adds a little more mature rope-a-dope to the production with Celia Imrie and Timothy Spall, as the four gallivant on the French Riviera for the heist of the $10.8 million dollar “Rainbow Diamond”. Although some of the silliness that ensues requires a suspension of disbelief, THE LOVE PUNCH harkens to the screwball antics of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story.
Richard and Kate are happily and amicably divorced. Their son, Matt, is already in college while daughter Sophie is now joining him in academia, leaving Kate to suffer through her days and nights with a very empty nest. Meanwhile, Richard, a successful investment banker, seems to have been filling his empty hours with partners young enough to be his daughter, something that always gives Kate fuel for comedic fodder. For best friends and neighbors, Jerry and Penelope, the solution to Kate’s newfound loneliness is simple - get back together with Richard. As anyone can see, the love, disguised as sparring foreplay, is as sizzling as ever.
But, life is about to be upended for Richard and Kate thanks to Richard’s sale of his company to a shady Frenchman Vincent Kruger who has absconded with all of the company assets, including the pension funds of all of the employees. With everyone looking to him for answers, and feeling his own pangs of guilt at having been so easily duped (something that would have never happened to James Bond or Remington Steele), Richard has only one place to turn. Kate.
At first annoyed by the situation, it’s not until Richard explains, “no pension, no houses, no college, no retirement” that Kate jumps into action with the two developing an outrage plan. Having just seen on tv the news that Kruger bought his fiancé Manon a $10.8 million dollar diamond, the solution to recovering everyone’s retirement money is simple - steal the diamond and sell it on the Black Market. And with Manon announcing she’ll be wearing it at her upcoming nuptials in Cote d’Azur, France, it seems the perfect time and place for Richard and Kate to make their move.
Calling on Penelope and Jerry for assistance, who leap at the chance for adventure, the four come up with a plan that requires disguises, perfect timing, gate crashing and, uh, scuba gear.
As Richard, Pierce Brosnan engages and delights with the silken smoothness of the finest martini. We see shades of Bond and Mr. Steele as well a touch of Julian Noble and Neil Skinner, with the grace and kindness of Philip in Suzanne Bier’s Love Is all You Need. At this stage of his career, Brosnan uses the wealth of his life experience both on and off screen to develop textured, flawed, very human and this case, charmingly funny characters. And while Brosnan stands tall on his own as Richard, it’s when he and Emma Thompson get in the ring together where emotions heighten, barbs get wittier and timing is rapier. Watching Brosnan and Thompson immediately took me straight to thoughts of Grant and Hepburn.
Emma Thompson is a firecracker. As Kate, she’s bright, funny, dazzling, sizzles with Brosnan, and never fizzles. Her facial expressiveness and adeptness with physical comedy is flawless. No matter who is on screen in THE LOVE PUNCH, it’s Thompson that commands center stage. According to writer/director Joel Hopkins, who wrote the part of Kate specifically for Thompson, she was so game to tackle anything, that she executes many of her own stunts and in an hysterical car chase, it is really Thompson driving the car almost on two wheels on an embankment and down the last third of a lengthy stone staircase. The hilarity of the heist escalates during this sequence thanks to Thompson's gusto and going beyond what was planned and rehearsed by the second unit, leading the look of panic on Pierce Brosnan's face to be very, very real.
Joining in the fun are Timothy Spall and Celia Imrie who are more than fitting second bananas as Jerry and Penelope with Spall stealing the show every chance he gets thanks to matter-of-fact non-expressive delivery of surprising tidbits of Jerry’s past. Fueling the funny is Celia Imrie’s wifely kvetching and bumbling burbling at the most inopportune moments.
Written and directed by Joel Hopkins, the premise is smart and antics are fun. One of the most successful gags comes with Timothy Spall’s seemingly bumbling Jerry who keeps surprising everyone with paramilitary super-spy skills, serving as a means to poke fun at one of Brosnan’s most famous characters, Bond. Although predictable, the romantic sub-plot of the rekindling of feelings for Kate and Richard, while enjoyable to watch the chemistry and physical antics of Brosnan and Thompson, falls short with some of the dialogue which often feels hackneyed or not in keeping with either character. Incorporating heist tropes like disguises, car chases and cartographics are necessary for the film, surprisingly, they are neither over-used nor fall flat visually. An “over the bridge and down the stairs and onto the sidewalk” car chase that starts with Brosnan at the wheel and a lap switch with Thompson mid-chase is hilarious, particularly once Thompson gets in the driver’s seat. Speaking volumes is that the film is at its best when Thompson is on screen.
Jerome Almeras dazzles with his bright, sunny, richly colored and saturated cinematography, celebrating the majesty of Cote d’Azur and all it has to offer, while softly capturing intimate moments that heighten the under-scored romance of Kate and Richard. Some wonderful use of slo-mo as well as a fast forward kidnapping montage that is good for Buster Keaton kicks and giggles.
Appreciative of the eclectic nature of Jean-Michel Bernard’s scoring, it is unfortunately too busy with predictable leading tonal qualities, and then stepped on by 70's and retro rock songs from Free, Status Quo and others. I can see what Hopkins was trying to achieve with this energetic musical balance as contrast to the AARP-ers pulling a caper, but it’s just too much.
While it doesn’t land every punch, THE LOVE PUNCH is a winner by decision. It comes out swinging with laughter, love and Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson . And that’s tough to top.
Written and Directed by Joel Hopkins
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Emma Thompson, Timothy Spall, Celia Imrie