Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani are the best thing about hectic, loony The Lovebirds: Review
There’s a genre of movie that is often described as a caper but could also probably just be called shenanigans: a hectic, punch-drunk mélange of crime and comedy and romance propelled by breathless scene changes, kooky characters, and only the looniest wisp of a plot.
That means that The Lovebirds — like Game Night, Date Night, and countless other escapades before it — relies almost wholly on the charisma and chemistry of its stars to carry all that absurdity without letting it tumble fully into nonsense.
It’s lucky then that the movie has Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani: two actors who, even if they never feel entirely convincing as a couple falling madly in and out love on the run, are both such smart, engaging screen presences that it’s easy enough to surrender to a scant 96 minutes of canny banter and scrambling up fire escapes.
Rae’s Leilani works at an ad agency in New Orleans; Nanjiani’s Jibran makes documentaries nobody sees. They used to be crazy about each other but sometime over the past four years the connection has soured, and they’re on the brink of breaking up when their ride to a dinner party is commandeered by a man (Paul Sparks) who claims he’s a cop chasing a criminal when he takes the wheel, then proceeds to vehicularly manslaughter "the perp" like he’s done it many, many times before.
With their car now an unwitting murder weapon — and the knowledge that the innocence of a brown-skinned couple covered in the blood of a dead man may not be breezily presumed — the pair panics, and goes on the lam. Their decision to play DIY detective and try to crack the case before the police catch up kicks off what little there is of a story arc: Set pieces that send them careening across the city from some kind of urban barn to frat-boy hovels, neon dive bars, and even a Eyes Wide Shut-style orgy.
There is no shortage of costume changes and wink-and-miss-it cameos; mostly, though, it's all background noise for Rae and Nanjiani, who bicker and banter like a couple who can't stop poking at their most tender weak spots, but know each other well enough to work together too. Can these crazy kids get back to the feeling? Only all the precedents in Hollywood, and every signpost the script is pointing to, know for sure.
The nominal overseer of all this is actor-director Michael Showalter (who also helmed Nanjiani's 2017 big-screen breakout The Big Sick), and he does it benevolently, letting the one-liners fly fast and loose. If they land and you laugh, great; if not, they're already gone.
What feels freshest, maybe, is the mere fact of two leads of color taking on all the tropes of the genre and making it feel as modern as they do. Lovebirds' scattershot bundle of slapstick antics and throwaway jokes about Brett Kavanaugh and Hobbs and Shaw might not be for the ages; but in this moment, it's more than sweet enough. B