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"SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN"
(2012) (Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Romantic Dramedy: A government fisheries expert reluctantly agrees to assist an investment consultant in helping her client, a wealthy sheik, bring fly fishing to the highlands of Yemen.
PLOT:
Bridget Maxwell (KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS) is in need of a feel good story. She works for Britain's Prime Minister and with recent news of a terrorist bombing, she knows what her boss and the British people need is some lighthearted distraction. She thinks she's found that when she learns that Sheikh Muhammad (AMR WAKED) of Yemen is desirous of bringing the sport of fly fishing to his lands. And with news that Britain has millions of fishermen, she thinks having the British government help would be a great vote-getting ploy amount those constituents.

Accordingly, she wants government fisheries expert Fred Jones (EWAN McGREGOR) to assist Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (EMILY BLUNT), an investment consultant hired by the sheikh, to help make that happen. Fred, whose wife Mary (RACHAEL STIRLING) has just announced she'll be away from home on business for 6 weeks, thinks it's a horrible idea and one that might theoretically be possible, but hardly easy to pull off. After all, he views much of Yemen as comprised of deserts and certainly too hot to sustain the cold water loving salmon the sheikh desires to populate a manmade lake he's creating.

Risking losing his job if he doesn't cooperate, Fred reluctantly agrees to help, but Harriet ends up distracted by the fact that her boyfriend of three weeks, Captain Robert Mayers (TOM MISON), not only has been called up into active duty, but is now considered missing in action following a military incident. As Fred tries to console her about that, and figure out how to pull off the Sheikh's idea, he starts developing feelings for Harriett.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
While one can pick up habits and pastimes at any point in their lives, many are set and anchored during the childhood years, often as a result of copying -- and sometimes doing the polar opposite as a means of rebelling -- what one or more of their parents do. For many people, especially between father and son, fishing is one of those bonding traditions.

It wasn't for me, though, as unlike my wife who grew up in the land of ten thousand lakes, there really wasn't any place to fish in the immediate environs of Richmond, Virginia. In my formative years, the James River was poisoned with Kepone and fishing wasn't allowed. The nearest lake of any size was manmade and the source of cooling waters for the nuclear power plant. And the creek at the bottom of the hill was too shallow to support any sort of fishable aquatic life. Throw in the fact that my dad didn't fish and it simply didn't become a must for yours truly.

But I know many people who are fanatical about it and some for whom it's nearly something of a spiritual experience. They'll go out of their way to fish whenever and wherever they can. Imagine then, if you loved, say, fly fishing, but had nowhere close by to partake in that sport. You could always travel to rivers teaming with fish suitable for that, or, if you were really rich like an Arabian Sheikh, you could create your own river and stock it with your own fish.

That's part of the premise of "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen," a film that straddles many genres and starts off quite strong, but ultimately fails to keep up that terrific early pace and slowly sinks under the weight of trying to be too many things. The title -- borrowed from Paul Torday's 2006 novel of the same name -- will certainly catch the eye and ear of those tired of the same old, same old from Hollywood, and the first act of this pic is fairly delightful.

During that, we meet Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt), a woman who handles the investment affairs of high end clients such as Sheikh Muhammad (Amr Waked). He's the one who really wants to introduce the titular activity to his people. His quest sounds like the sort of feel good story Britain's Prime Minister could use to distract his constituents from strife in the Middle East, so his public affairs director (Kristin Scott Thomas) decides having the government help could win over millions of fishing fans nationwide.

That results in a call to Fred Jones (Ewan McGregor), a somewhat nerdy fisheries expert who thinks the idea not only is utter rubbish, but also pretty much impossible to pull off. Nevertheless, when push comes to shove and his job is on the line, he reluctantly agrees to step up to the plate, or into his fishing waders if you will, and see if he can make it work.

The initial chemistry between the two leads is terrific (if initially comically antagonistic, at least on his part), and I don't think I could ever grow tired of hearing McGregor say "Ms. Chetwode-Talbot" in his distinctive accent. Throw in the satirical elements of Thomas playing a government wonk who will do anything to score points for her boss, and the stage seems set for a fun and entertaining ride.

It is, at least for a while, and their introduction to the Sheikh only adds to the charm. But the filmmakers -- director Lasse Hallstrom and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy -- then add too many fish into their cinematic aquarium and the waters start to cloud. Having not read the source novel, I can't say if the same elements are thrown into the mix, and if so, how they play out in written form, but the inclusion of a soldier character who gets listed as missing in action and some traditionalists in the Sheikh's land not liking his Westernized plan starts to give the effort something of a fishy smell.

I'm all for doing whatever it takes to make one's tale as interesting and engaging as possible. Yet, the subplot featuring Tom Mison as Harriett's missing soldier boyfriend loosens a lot of the hook the early goings-on used to snare us. I'm not sure if it's supposed to come off as satire or what, but watching Blunt's character be worried and miserable about her MIA boyfriend -- after three weeks of dating -- lessens a great deal of the early fun and charm.

The same holds true for another subplot where locals first attempt to assassinate the Sheikh the old fashioned way -- via a pistol -- before setting their sights on a tactic a bit more bold (not to mention wet). And having Fred's marriage to Mary (Rachael Stirling) failing doesn't help matters. Yes, I understand that at least that latter part is designed to allow the next stage of the rom-com genre elements to kick in, but all of that results in it not being as much fun rooting for the two leads to realize they're right for each other.

In the end, and despite my lack of vast fishing experience in using such a metaphor, "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" is akin to hooking a terrific game fish at first, only to have it then slip away and be replaced by something anyone could catch. The flick rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed February 28, 2012 / Posted March 9, 2012


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