If you’re looking for something easy to watch and even easier to forget — forgetting being something many of us are craving during this pandemic — then “The Lovebirds” may do the trick. You won’t have to think, or, rather, you won’t want to think, because thinking will only frustrate your enjoyment. Thinking while watching “The Lovebirds” is like wearing globs of red lipstick under your mask. Not needed, not recommended.
The new Netflix movie, which premieres on Friday, was originally intended for theatrical release by Paramount. The studio changed plans when the pandemic kicked in, however, and sold the movie to Netflix, which is exactly where it belongs (since $1 DVD bins are now rare). If I’d gotten up the energy to see “The Lovebirds” in a theater, and paid for a ticket and other moviegoing-adjacent costs, I’d be pretty unhappy about it. This is the kind of unfizzy romantic comedy that accommodates naps, bathroom leaves, and social media visits — not a post-movie dinner reservation.
Actually, I’d be more disappointed than unhappy if I’d seen it on the big screen. The New Orleans-set movie features a pair of dynamic performers as the romantic leads — Issa Rae, so honest and humorously self-conscious in “Insecure,” and Kumail Nanjiani, whose amusing work on “Silicon Valley” led to the deep pleasures of his starring turn in the movie “The Big Sick,” which he co-wrote. And it’s directed by Michael Showalter, who has reunited with the star of his excellent last movie, which happens to be “The Big Sick.”
But the acting talent doesn’t lift up the material (written by Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall) so much as keep it from sinking from its own leadenness. And Showalter doesn’t seem committed enough to the project to bring the kind of anarchic energy and complex action machinery it requires. “The Lovebirds” is a couple’s madcap journey through a night of horrors (remember “After Hours”?) that include a violent murder or two, a freaked-out frat house, and the secret meetings of a mask-wearing orgy club of rich people like the one in “Eyes Wide Shut.” We should feel the comedic edge getting sharper as they get sucked into crisis after crisis, not the dull progress of a story line dutifully moving toward its predictable denouement.
Rae’s Leilani and Nanjiani’s Jibran are about to break up when they’re involved in a car accident that involves a shady dude played by Paul Sparks. They mistakenly think he’s a cop when he gets in their car and proceeds to run over — and over and over again — a wounded biker. They flee the scene, convinced that it would be a mistake to call in the cops since they’re people of color. They grab the dead biker’s phone and go on the run, forced together despite their imminent separation. They run, but at times it feels as though they’re drifting.
Rae and Nanjiani are likable, and they appear to like working with each other. I didn’t sense much romantic chemistry between them; Leilani and Jibran speak the coded language of pop culture to each other, which sometimes feels like the kind of cute you find between friends. But they’re quite watchable, and every once in a while they get a good line. You root for them to get back together when their long adventure has ended and your Netflix quota has been filled for the night.
Starring: Issa Rae, Kumail Nanjiani, Paul Sparks, Anna Camp, Kyle Bornheimer
On: Netflix. Available Friday.