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With: Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor, Kristin Scott Thomas, Amr Waked
Written by: Simon Beaufoy, based on a novel by Paul Torday
Directed by: Lasse Hallström
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence and sexual content, and brief language
Running Time: 112
Date: 09/10/2011

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2012)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Spawn Men

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

No, salmon are not native to Yemen, which is the point of this movie (based on a book by Paul Torday). We're meant to say that salmon could not possibly survive being transported to the desert, much less live for very long once arriving. But our main characters are designed to say: "have a little faith. Sometimes outrageous things work out just fine." And sometimes a stodgy guy will quit his stodgy life and find the girl of his dreams.

And in this, Salmon Fishing in Yemen works sporadically. It believes enough in its loony magic to come up with some charming "ooh" and "ahh" moments. And it certainly helps that Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt are two of our absolute best-looking and most crush-worthy movie stars. This is an old-fashioned Hollywood movie, just like they used to build 'em.

The good stuff doesn't stop there: Kristin Scott Thomas is also on hand with a hilarious, scenery-chewing performance, the kind in which she gets to leave behind any kind of care or decorum. She just chews and chews, and it's a delight to watch.

However, this movie is still soft and flabby in the middle and around the edges. Whenever it requires any kind of dramatic turn of events -- such as an attempt on a sheikh's life or the return of a long-lost soldier -- they are performed dutifully, as if simply waiting for the inevitable outcome. And the movie wastes time on many marginal characters, buffoons and tragic spouses, that don't amount to much.

The story has it that a wealthy Yemeni sheikh really loves fly-fishing, and also hopes to revitalize the land for the benefit of his people. Harriet (Blunt) is his go-to girl in matters like these, and she hires a reluctant fisheries scientist, Alfred (McGregor), to figure out the details. Alfred is doubtful to the point of sarcasm, and he also believes that the sheikh is yet another rich idiot looking to spend his money in unique ways. But the project eventually turns into a spiritual journey, and finally a romantic one.

Director Lasse Hallström is still known for making the lovely coming-of-age film My Life as a Dog (1987) in his native Sweden, and he is generally forgiven for the junk he has made since. (Only the prickly The Hoax seemed to have any life in it.) Perhaps he's the reason Salmon Fishing elicits a little bit of goodwill in the midst of so much empty filmmaking.

Sony's Blu-ray really shows off the movie's lush, luxurious sets and locations, and it has a sweet little musical score that sounds terrific. The disc comes with a little 12-minute making-of featurette, a 3-minute featurette about writer Torday, and trailers.

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