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Dustin Putman

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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen  (2012)
2 Stars
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom.
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Kristin Scott Thomas, Amr Waked, Rachel Stirling, Tom Mison, Catherine Steadman, Jill Baker.
2012 – 108 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for some violence and sexual content, and brief language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, March 5, 2012.
The sound of the title, "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen," is unlikely to set a fire under prospective audience members, but it does serve, for once, as truth in advertising. Both the name and the film in question are safe, bland and tranquil. At 108 minutes, the skimpy story is also stretched thin and loses nearly all interest by the final half-hour. Ewan McGregor (2012's "Perfect Sense") and Emily Blunt (2011's "The Adjustment Bureau") are a pleasant if predictable pair, cast for their talent, yes, but also for their very Britishness. A light comedic romance where nothing ever gets too steamy or too sordid, director Lasse Hallstrom (2010's "Dear John") and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (2010's "127 Hours") embrace an innately English sensibility, but don't seem to drive home any greater point beyond the obvious.

When wealthy entrepreneur Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked) decides upon his latest financial undertaking—to build a dam that will safely lure salmon south to the Yemen-Saudi Arabia border—he calls upon investment consultant Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) for help. To investigate the logistics of such a course of action, Harriet pursues the aid of fishery specialist Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor). Jones is skeptical, to say the least—for one, the area looks to be too dry to support salmon's life when not in monsoon season—but Harriet's agreement to fund the 50-pound project makes it an easier one to accept. As Harriet and Dr. Jones commiserate in Yemen, both are in the midst of a personal crossroads, the former's fiancé Capt. Robert Mayers (Tom Mison) missing in action and thought dead and the latter's humdrum marriage to Mary (Rachael Stirling) on its last legs. Vulnerable and hesitant to admit how much they like each other, the two of them nonetheless forge a relationship that coincides with the fruits of their labor either taking off or failing outright.

Based on the novel by Paul Torday, "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" is inoffensively there at best and outright dull and insignificant at worst. The very premise leaves something to be desired, since it is never explained why one should care whether or not the salmon migrate south or not. Would it be environmentally beneficial in some way, either for the river or the fish or the land? Not really. Instead, it is mostly just the whim of a rich man with too much money on his hands who wants to see if it can be done. In this regard, there is little at stake to care about. As for the cautious romance between Harriet and Dr. Jones—people address him this way so much that it's impossible not to think of Indiana—it has about as much fire to it as that between a brother and sister. The script, playing things overly safe, surveys their soulful connectedness, but renders things chastely prosaic. It's also always far too clear where everything is headed, right down to an inevitable discovery that forces Harriet to reevaluate who she cares the most about in her life.

"Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" isn't ha-ha funny very often at all and its dramatic arc is one of low stakes. The cinematography by Terry Stacey (2011's "50/50") is sunny and attractive, but the natural beauty of London and Morocco more or less shoots itself. Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt are without fault, doing what they can with uninspired roles, while Kristin Scott Thomas (2009's "Confessions of a Shopaholic") adds a winking slyness to the otherwise even more thankless Patricia Maxwell, the prime minister's press officer who takes a shine to the salmon fishing story as a means of covering up the tragedies of the Middle East with a positive human interest piece. It all adds up to a virtual afterthought, punctuated by an overlong third act that doesn't understand the old-world charm of brevity. This could very well be early 2012's poster child for neither-here-nor-there mediocrity.
© 2012 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman