“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”: Romance Diverts Humor

The kind of benign, swooningly humanist crowd-pleaser Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat) could make in his sleep (and by this point, possibly does), Salmon Fishing in the Yemen mostly sacrifices the political satire and epistolary structure of Paul Torday's source novel in favor of cute, if strained, rom-com shenanigans. If you're not getting enough of that from network TV, this movie's for you. Salmon Fishing, which sets up its premise and expectations in the title, concerns London fisheries specialist Fred Jones (Ewan McGregor), who's tasked by the prime minister's flack (Kristin Scott Thomas) to export British salmon to a Yemeni river at the request of a sheikh (Amr Waked) with a jones for fly-fishing. The sheikh's real estate assistant (Emily Blunt) tags along to help and, in the process, entices the unhappily married Jones into romance and Hallstrom-ian self-actualization. The first section of the film deploys chipper barbs at the expense of career bureaucrats, which is funny and effective—Scott Thomas, who brings the raunch, is particularly good—but once McGregor and Blunt start dissecting their complicated feelings for each other, things turn unexpectedly dire. They're a ridiculously attractive and likable couple, but Hallstrom overwhelms them (and the lush Scottish and Moroccan locations, and us) with his customary brand of lightweight heavy-handedness.

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