REVIEW / COMEDY-DRAMA
SWIMMING WITH MEN (PG13)
97 minutes/Now showing/2 stars
The story: Eric (Rob Brydon) is the typical English white-collar worker and dad. But the spark seems to have gone out of his job and marriage and, lately, his only pleasure has been a weekly swim at the public pool. Against his better judgment, he finds himself involved with a group of men who have the crazy idea of breaking into the traditional women's sport of synchronised swimming.
Whether it is ballroom dancing, or salsa, or male stripping, or a romance with a manic young girl with a terminal illness, cinema has mined every activity in its search for ways to tell the story of how a sad middle-aged man finds his smile again.
To the list of things that will lift a moody bloke out of his mid-life crisis, add synchronised swimming.
In storytelling terms, the exact nature of the happiness-creating diversion in all likelihood matters very little, as long as it is visually interesting (which explains why there are no films about men discovering that the antidote to their ennui is chess, for example).
It is what one does with the activity that matters and, here, the answer is - very little.
The talented stand-up comic and actor Rob Brydon has, for some unfathomable reason, opted to participate in this project, but even he cannot save this from sinking to the bottom of the pool.
For starters, except for one or two, the rest of the swimming crew are characterless.
Much of the time spent with Eric (Brydon) shows him wallowing in stoic self-pity, until the final act, when a cringingly inept Bollywood-level explosion of emotion occurs.
In between, there are many shots of Eric moping, and a half-hearted try at developing both a love interest and a sports underdog story in which the scrappy team of Brits has to compete in an international championship.
Director Oliver Parker (Johnny English Reborn, 2011) seems to think that as long as an occasional sitcom-level joke, or badly placed gross-out gag, is squeezed in, this awkward attempt at a story about a man's mid-life crisis counts as a comedy.
Weirdly, for a movie about a sport that means the world to its main character, too much time is spent mocking that sport, or at least treating it with mild ironic contempt, until the very last moment when the tone switches to an earnest embrace of it.
With no serious attempt at selling the beauty of synchronised swimming, or what men bring to the sport that women do not, the movie scores an own goal.