Does anyone really remember the Steve Carell and Tina Fey vehicle Date Night? Yeah, probably not, the only reason it really comes to mind is because, like The Lovebirds, it too squandered the appeal of two popular comic performers in a rom-com caper that managed to be both frantic and a little lazy. There are other examples that come to mind, but more importantly this one stars Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani, and it starts out promisingly, and not just because it stars Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani. The opening shows their characters, Leilani and Jibran, falling in love in the kind of montage that usually comes midway through a movie like this. Then suddenly it’s four years later, and they’re on the verge of breaking up, having worn out each other’s patience. It all unfolds quickly enough to be interesting, to make you want to get to know this pair a little better.
Yet, that never happens. Jibran is an aspiring documentarian and Leilani is the less career-oriented one; overall, though, they’re both incredibly thin characters who are only are defined by broad labels. It’s in that “four-years-later” nuclear-grade argument where we first see the couple debating whether or not they’d be able to win “The Amazing Race.” They can’t even agree on a restaurant for dinner, let alone the right path around the world. He says that he doesn’t watch reality shows, and she says that “documentaries are just reality shows that no one watches,” and yet somehow they don’t break up right there on the spot. The relationship lasts until the next scene, when he calls her shallow, and she accuses him of being a self-satisfied failure. It’s hard to come back from that.
But those words barely have time to settle before a criminal bicyclist smashes across their windshield and a mustached cop (Paul Sparks) commandeers — with Jibran and Leilani still inside it — in order to chase the victim down and then repeatedly run over his corpse, putting the car in reverse then back to drive then back again. So maybe that guy wasn’t a cop, and our molting lovebirds just became accomplices to a murder. Not white enough to safely turn themselves in, Jibran and Leilani speedily run away with the dead biker’s cell phone and off into a long, fugitive night that will force them to rely on each other if they want to survive their own high stakes, hyper-condensed version of “The Amazing Race.”
From there, the spotty and unsurprising plot unfolds more like a glorified escape room than it does a global relay race, making it hard to shake the feeling that Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall’s script never developed beyond one of those dynamite comedy pitches that gets sold on the strength of its premise. The Lovebirds careens forward with a desperate pace and never takes the time to make us care about its characters or sell us on the idea that they care about each other. No matter what the gag is, it all continually struggles to find depth their actions.
But as if to distract from the blandness of its protagonists, The Lovebirds — directed by Michael Showalter — half-bakes a busy plot involving murder, police corruption and an elaborate blackmail scheme in which printed photographs of sex acts are mailed around in envelopes. On the run from both cops and killers, Jibran and Leilani wind up at what looks like an Eyes Wide Shut theme party, with masked revelers, orgies and mumbo-jumbo incantations. That probably sounds funnier that it actually ends up being. Rae and Nanjiani do their best, but neither the dialogue nor the direction serves their talents adequately. The flatness of a good chunk of the jokes and gags in The Lovebirds might suggest a made-for-streaming rush job, but this movie was originally going to be released in theaters by Paramount. But with the current circumstances, it makes it all the easier to skip and even easier to embrace its destiny as a disposable piece in the Netflix abyss. While laughs still make an appearance in The Lovebirds, the film’s ultimately so breezy and fleeting that it slowly just evaporates away.
The Lovebirds is available to stream on Netflix