Salmon Fishing In The Yemen. Not exactly a title that rolls off the tongue is it? Well the plot is about as clunky as it sounds and sees Ewan McGregor as stuffy fisheries scientist Fred Jones, who’s reluctantly paired with financial advisor Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) in order to help found a salmon bed in Yemen for billionaire sheikh Muhammad (Amr Waked).
Fred initially thinks that the idea is preposterous but when his ludicrous financial estimates are immediately agreed to, he begins to warm to the idea, especially when Muhammed reveals himself to be more than just a wealthy playboy with a fanatical love of fishing.
Meanwhile, Fred’s initially prickly relationship with Harriet starts to become something more despite the pesky inconvenience that he’s unhappily married and she’s still pining for her missing-in-action soldier boyfriend.
It’s a dull and rather chaste courtship but the likable leads make it watchable. Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt have the one thing that all romances need but can’t fake – chemistry. It’s a shame that their witty dialogue is bogged down by a constant stream of grating swimming-up-stream metaphors.
With its leads stuck in the shallow end, it’s up to Kristin Scott Thomas to shake things up a bit as government press secretary Patricia Maxwell – intent on making the project a success at any cost to create a “good Middle East story” with which to win more voters. A milder version of In The Loop’s Malcolm Tucker, her constant haranguing of her colleagues is the funniest thing in the film (and actually the funniest thing she’s done in years), so she’s a welcome addition.
Things start to take a drastic turn for the worse every time it veers away from comedy and into the more serious waters of over-sentimental drama. Sheikh Muhammad has his heart in the right place, but he seems incapable of speaking in anything but the most eye-rolling platitudes (sample: “Fisherman, I have noticed, don’t care if I’m brown or white”).
Just once it’d be nice to see a portrayal of a sheikh who doesn’t spout warmed over aphorisms about destiny and faith. Surely the law of averages should have thrown us one who’s a megalomaniac nutcase by now? That at least would have injected a bit more edge into a film which is about as safe as one of Dr Jones’s cardigans.
The comedy is gently amusing if not rolling-in-the-aisles funny with enough tenderness to make it believable despite the ridiculous premise. However, the tone wobbles alarmingly in its final act – an assassination attempt, an impromptu press trip and depressing subplot involving both leads’ partners make it difficult to settle down into anything satisfying and there’s a nagging feeling that there’s a rich vein of satire which is never more than merely thinly explored. Certainly watchable, but hardly essential viewing.