Friday 18 April 2014

Away from home: "The Love Punch" and "Locke" (ST 20/04/14)

The Love Punch (12A) 94 mins **
Locke (15) 85 mins ***

As the dodgy knees and greying temples flaunted by its cast of National Treasures would imply, The Love Punch is aimed squarely at that ill-served over-50s demographic: it’s essentially Ocean’s 11 for oldsters, forsaking lounge jazz for the staples of dadrock. While reaching for that sophisticated Riviera touch, Joel Hopkins’ slapdash runaround puts its back out, and has to settle for more humdrum dreams of escapism. Glossed over is the one speck of post-crunch reality in its set-up: a divorced couple faced with the realisation they have nothing left but each other.

These are Kate and Richard (Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan) who, shortly after waving off their daughter to uni, learn their pension fund has been snaffled by a French financier. A plot is hatched: the squabbling pair, along with neighbours Penelope and Jerry (Celia Imrie and Timothy Spall), will jet to Cannes and, in retribution, swipe a $10m diamond belonging to the banker’s fiancée – a goal couched as a victory for sound life experience over cruel beauty and heartless commerce. As Brosnan winks, “We’re the older generation – we’re enlightened.”

Maybe so, but the victory would count for more if it were harder won. Instead, Hopkins’ film capers naffly around a cartoonish universe, relying on the cast’s chemistry to bolster a project that rarely appears more substantial than a jolly holiday-enabler. They’re not elevating the material so much as working, at lengthening odds, to dignify it: some graft, given the reliance on hectic hotel-suite farce. Lining everyone up in slo-mo, Reservoir Dogs-style, is an especially tired-seeming image, but one not untypical of a visually banal endeavour that imbues Cannes with a glamour broadly redolent of Dunstable in October.

Almost forgotten amid the gold rush for grey pounds is that the film credited with “discovering” older audiences – 2010’s The King’s Speech – formed a serious unpicking of personal and national traumas. Since then, countless Werther’s Unoriginals have targeted mature viewers with flimsier stuff and nonsense: the same lame plots and jokes by which the movies have long courted teens. Perversely, The Love Punch finds itself pursuing the one crowd who might just remember the various Charades and To Catch a Thiefs it draws so heavily upon. It’s a problem, as such class endures. Cheese like this merely goes off.

Locke is as pared-down as its title: it’s Tom Hardy in a Range Rover haring down the M1 for 85 minutes, the time it might take one to drive from Birmingham to London on a good night. This is, however, a very bad night for Hardy’s Ivan Locke, a Welsh construction manager who’s just learnt his mistress has gone into labour – before he’s had the chance to break news of the affair to his wife. There follows a series of fraught hands-free exchanges – with said wife and mistress, plus his rudderless boys and colleagues – each call-waiting notification chipping away at the once-concrete certainties of this man’s existence.

It’s a test of nerve not just for the character, but for writer-director Steven Knight, attempting something more contained after TV’s expansive Peaky Blinders. Having previously developed Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, Knight knows how to sell us on his higher-concept ideas, and he’s grounded this particular game of phone-a-friend in everyday screw-ups, credibly casual wrong turns. Locke’s left a crucial work binder on his passenger seat. He’s also feeling fluey. Swigs of Night Nurse don’t help his equilibrium: he’s communing with his late father even before he passes Coventry.

Despite its speed, the film steadfastly bypasses thriller methods: no wild overtaking is required, and the protagonist may be the closest it has to a bad guy. It’s more a compact, nocturnal character study, using Locke’s car as a vehicle to cruise through an itinerary of competing male preoccupations: work, women, football, paternity, control. Hardy – The Dark Knight Rises’ burly Bane – is here unmasked as a performer of considerable skill: initially steady, even wry, yet increasingly unhinged, justifying with every call the sustained, through-the-windscreen scrutiny. 

Gimmick-movies stand or fall on where we’re headed; many a wheel has come off going into a third act. Personally, I found Knight soft-pedalling a little upon the approach to the capital, in ways one shouldn’t spoil. But maybe it’s the journey and not the destination that’s important. As it heads into the night, mapping its hero’s progress towards a new-found responsibility, Locke again reaffirms cinema’s ability to make something diverting from a mere glove compartment’s worth of faces and voices. And it’ll make for great arguments on the drive home.

The Love Punch and Locke are in cinemas nationwise from today.

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