Movie reviews: The Big Sick and Atomic Blonde will put a smile on your face

The Big Sick stands tall with its great cast and jokes, while Atomic Blonde packs a punch with exhilarating action scenes

Both films this week will put a smile on anyone's face - the first because of its affability, the other because it is exhilarating.

The Big Sick (NC16, 120 minutes, opens tomorrow, 3.5/5 stars) is that rare thing, a romantic comedy starring two unknowns, so the film rises or falls based on merits other than star power.

And it rises high, not just on the strength of its jokes, but also on its fabulous cast and how it effortlessly weaves an immigrant success story into everything else.

Most romantic comedies get by with using one relationship roadblock (he's rich, she's poor; he's a player, she's faithful; he wants to be the father, she wants to be a single mum, and so on).

This movie features two relationship killers. Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani, playing himself) is a struggling stand-up comic who meets Emily (Zoe Kazan, playing Nanjiani's real wife, Emily V. Gordon). His Pakistani-Muslim immigrant family keeps setting him up with girls from his culture. After he and Emily break up, she falls into a coma.

Working on a script from Nanjiani and Gordon, director Michael Showalter, who helmed the little-seen but funny Hello, My Name Is Doris (2015), goes soft and gentle when most others would go big and loud.

The culture-clash stand-off between Kumail and his parents, for example, humanises both parties, while leaning only slightly in favour of Kumail's point of view. That friction provides plenty of grist for the joke mill, especially when Emily's parents, played with wonderful understatement by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, enter the picture.

Because Emily is in a coma, the moments that form the background in rom-coms are thrust to the foreground, giving viewers plenty of finely observed takes about the thing that gets omitted most often in the genre - families.

Charlize Theron (centre) as a British spy in Atomic Blonde.
Charlize Theron (centre) as a British spy in Atomic Blonde. PHOTO: CATHAY-KERIS FILMS

Is there anything that Charlize Theron can't do? Atomic Blonde (R21, 120 minutes, opens tomorrow, 4/5 stars) features her doing her own fight scenes, and not the usual sort, either. These come from stuntman-turned-director David Leitch, who, in John Wick (2014), proved that there was plenty of life left in the old-fashioned art of giving and taking punches.

Theron, as British spy Lorraine Broughton, is fury unleashed. Searching for a file of great importance in East Berlin just before the fall of the Wall, she leaves in her wake a small army of henchmen writhing in agony. British agent and old Berlin hand Percival (an impressively sinister James McAvoy) is her ally - or is he?

There is a twisty plot - sometimes too twisty - taken from the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, but director Leitch puts his trademark stamp of realism on it.

Broughton collects a galaxy of scars and bruises as the movie progresses, guns that are fired need reloading and action scenes are never marred by the swoopy- swervy camera moves so beloved of many Hollywood helmers.

Theron does everything James Bond does, including bedding femmes fatales with alluring accents.

But, proving that anything Bond can do, Broughton can do better, this film earns an R21 rating for its homosexual encounter, whereas Bond would probably have had a safer heterosexual M18.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2017, with the headline 'High on humour and fierce fighting'. Print Edition | Subscribe