Friday, March 30, 2012 | 12:48 p.m.
The title of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen implies a dry social-issue documentary or an esoteric art movie, not the gentle romantic dramedy starring Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt that it actually is. Retaining the title from Paul Torday’s 2006 novel may seem like a misstep, but it’s actually the most interesting thing about this sleepy, bland movie. McGregor plays Dr. Alfred Jones, a wildlife expert for the British government who is corralled into an implausible scheme by a wealthy sheikh (Amr Waked) to bring, well, salmon fishing to the Yemen. The sheikh’s British representative, Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt), cajoles Alfred into helping, and while the two initially find themselves at odds, it’s not hard to see where their relationship will end up.
Director Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat, Dear John) is an old hand at these sedate romances, and he pushes things along gently, taking plenty of detours along the way. The social satire of Torday’s novel is confined to the broad comedy of a government press officer played by Kristin Scott Thomas, who pushes through the salmon-fishing project as a way to distract from the country’s military failures. That goofiness fits awkwardly alongside the love story and the sheikh’s mystical pronouncements about fishing. The movie never quite commits to one tone, instead half-heartedly trying out wacky comedy, sweet romance and inspirational drama. McGregor and Blunt have a nice understated chemistry, but their romance is never active enough to take advantage of it. Like everything in the movie, it rolls along at such a low key that it barely even registers.