Written and directed by Joel Hopkins
The Love Punch is the latest entry in the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel subgenre of modern British cinema, in which a group of elder-statesmen performers go to an even remotely exotic locale to partake in a series of hopefully delightful hijinks. This time, it’s Pierce Brosnan, Emma Thompson, Timothy Spall, and Celia Imrie gallivanting in France, playing a quartet of characters who are ostensibly out to reclaim the money that’s rightfully theirs. Mostly, though, The Love Punch exists to give its leading actors a chance to have a good time on set; it’s less fun to watch, however, specifically because the logistics of the central caper make very little sense or inspire much tension.
Brosnan is Richard, who’s winding down his working years as the head of a successful London company. His life is superficially perfect, spent wining and dining younger women, or so it would seem to his ex-wife Kate (Thompson). By now, they’ve reached a point of amicable separation, so much so that their best friends (Spall and Imrie) as well as their adult children push them to reunite. The unlikely beginning of their recoupling occurs when Richard’s company is abruptly purchased by a ruthless French businessman (Laurent Lafitte), leaving him and his employees penniless. Richard and Kate, then, choose to go to France to fleece this corporate raider by destroying his impending nuptials and stealing a priceless diamond intended for his beautiful bride. Eventually, their friends tag along for the ride, because of course they do. Why commit a crime in France if you can’t get your pals involved?
The film’s writer/director, Joel Hopkins, did a better job with his last effort, Last Chance Harvey, in spite of its odd title. There, the central relationship between Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson was dealt with in the fashion of a character study; here, there must be a plot involved, because Richard and Kate can’t just get back together. They have to reunite because of the masquerade they take part in to make sure the businessman doesn’t recognize them from their botched initial meeting. It’s not that the leading actors aren’t at least pleasant to watch, if unremarkably so; the problem is that the stakes are extraordinarily low, especially since the protagonists instantly consider breaking the law to at least even the score with a heartless Frenchman. Hopkins, via Richard, pays lip service to the notion of the little guy striking back at the foreign-based one percent; Richard feels guilty for having let down his entire staff, which appears to consist of three people he keeps mentioning to remind us how bad he feels.
There are a few moments presumably meant to skewer Brosnan’s iconic work as James Bond in the late-1990s; in an early section, Richard’s unable or unwilling to chase down the businessman via their rental car, so Kate takes the wheel to his dismay. (There’s also a quick shot of him looking extraordinarily uncomfortable on a speedboat.) But these are few and far between, even though Brosnan’s clearly game enough to skewer his past films. Even when Richard, Kate, and their friends have to dress up as loudmouth Texans who want to do business with the Frenchman, the humor is low-key and brief; if you can’t make a cartoonish Southern accent funny if only for a minute, you’re either not trying or the material’s just not there. Here, it seems to be a mix of both; Brosnan and Thompson have decent enough chemistry, but their work rarely rises above the perfunctory. The closest to liveliness is in a running gag where Imrie’s character is shocked at how checkered Spall’s past is.
The Love Punch is a bright, colorful cubic zirconia of a caper. (There is one literal exception: a third-act scene where Richard and Kate are threatened with death; this scene is, inexplicably, shot as dimly as possible, to no one’s benefit.) There’s a moment or two where it appears that Hopkins will explore what it means to handle an ordinary retirement, for these characters to accept that they’re growing old. But just when the movie hints at such insight, it veers away, running scared. Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson, no doubt, deserved a vacation, and their jaunt to France looks like it was plenty fun. But it’s only plenty fun for them.
— Josh Spiegel