“Last Chance Harvey” stars Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman. If it didn’t, there wouldn’t be any reason to watch it.
The romantic comedy tends to be one of the most predictable of genres, but “Last Chance Harvey” has even fewer surprises than most. What it does offer, though, is the chance to watch a couple of old pros do what they do best - charm us and each other.
Harvey Shine (Mr. Hoffman) is a failed jazz pianist close to becoming a failed jingle writer. He’s making a quick jaunt to London to attend his daughter’s wedding before rushing back to the States in the hopes of saving his job. Never mind that his boss hints he won’t have one to come back to, telling him to stay and enjoy the big day. Harvey doesn’t even plan to attend the reception.
That’s why it’s hard to feel sorry for Harvey when his daughter Susan (Liana Balaban) tells him she’s asking her stepfather to walk her down the aisle. Brian (a perfectly cast James Brolin) is everything Harvey is not - good-looking, well-spoken and there for Susan.
Harvey’s day reaches its unfortunate zenith when he misses his flight and finally is told he’s fired. Drowning his sorrows in an airport bar, he meets Kate Walker (Emma Thompson). We’ve already seen that Kate has troubles of her own. The only calls she gets are from her paranoid mother (an amusing Eileen Atkins) and her last blind date ended in disaster.
Neither of these older singletons has been lucky in love. So of couse, though they have almost nothing in common, they’re perfect for each other.
“Last Chance Harvey” is painful to watch at first in the same way both versions of “The Office” are painful to watch - neither Harvey nor Kate has a lot in the way of social skills. Like that sitcom, the film was partly improvised. One has a feeling the best scenes were created by their stars rather than writer-director Joel Hopkins. His script goes by the book, while Mr. Hoffman and Miss Thompson always manage to rise above the material.
It seems that every chance this film had to become something special was squandered, just as Harvey almost squanders his last chance. With long walks around London, the movie might have been meant as an ode to that great city, but we don’t see enough of it, and there’s at least one mistake of geography when we do. We only hear one of Harvey’s own serious compositions, and it’s a rip-off of Erik Satie.
Most egregiously, Mr. Hopkins simply glides over the moment when the closed-up Kate reveals perhaps the most important secret of her life. The scene, subtly performed by Miss Thompson, could have been absolutely heartbreaking. Sadly, Mr. Hopkins gives neither Harvey nor Kate more than a small chance to shine.
TITLE: “Last Chance Harvey”
RATING: PG-13 (Brief strong language)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Joel Hopkins
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
WEB SITE: lastchanceharvey.com
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS
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