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Last Chance Harvey is a bland, standard romantic drama that pretends to have all sorts of Oscar ambitions but it derives all of its value purely from its stars, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson.

Part of our coverage of the Starz Denver Film Festival
Part of our coverage of the Starz Denver Film Festival

Shine a Light

Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman, Outbreak) is a jingle writer living in White Plains, N.Y., who’s out of touch with the modern world and running out of chances. Jetting off to London for his daughter’s wedding, Harvey’s boss encourages him to stay out there a while. It’s corporate lingo for saying he’s really not valued anymore. The younger kids are going to handle his premier account in his absence.

Well, Harvey’s a rather self-absorbed man who doesn’t get the message. He doesn’t get it from his boss (Richard Schiff, Deep Impact) and he doesn’t get it from his daughter (Liane Balaban, Eternal). He doesn’t get it, that is, until he arrives in London and finds out he’s the only one checking into the hotel. The rest of the family is in a rented house. That’d include the ex-wife (Kathy Baker, Edward Scissorhands) and stepfather (the always dapper James Brolin, The Amityville Horror).

But Harvey’s still a bit thick. Things don’t really hit home until his daughter tells him the stepfather is going to give her away at the wedding. And, after the wedding — and after Harvey misses his flight because of traffic — he finally gets it from his boss when he is flat-out fired.

All of that is a round-about way of getting Harvey to meet Kate Walker (Emma Thompson, Dead Again), an airline worker he brushed off upon his arrival in London. And, later on, as a kind of nice movie moment, he exits a taxi at the exact moment she enters the same taxi.

Wait. Maybe that wasn’t a nice moment. Maybe that was just forcing things a bit.

Chat with Kate

Writer/director Hopkins forces Hoffman and Thompson together
Writer/director Hopkins forces Hoffman and Thompson together

And Harvey most definitely knows how to force things.

Effectively run out of his family and his job, Harvey grabs a drink at a bar in the airport. And there’s Kate, reading a book. All of a sudden, Harvey’s personality starts to shine and these two lovelorn singles wind up spending the day together.

How do we know Kate’s lovelorn? The movie inter-cuts between Harvey’s sob story and hers.

Kate gets set up on a blind date. Kate keeps getting phone calls from her live-in mother. Kate’s mother is convinced their new neighbor is a psycho killer. (Okay. That last bit is played up for a couple chuckles. But even with a potential psycho killer in the thick of things, this movie’s heading down a one-way road to a romantic free-for-all.)

Anyway, the day Harvey and Kate spend together is a fairly plodding day at that. It’s one that brandishes all the forward momentum of afternoon tea. Complete with a cloying, piano-heavy score, Last Chance Harvey works hard at pulling on the heart strings, right down to a silly (although it’s supposed to be highly dramatic) incident which causes Harvey to miss his “second date” with Kate.

The first date, as it turns out, is at his daughter’s reception.

That’s right. She got married in the morning. It must’ve been some kind of red-eye early morning wedding that allowed Harvey to go all the way out to the airport (in bad traffic, mind you), miss his flight, chat with Kate in the bar, chat with Kate on the train all the way into central London, chat with Kate through Paddington station, chat with Kate along the Thames en route to her literature class at the National, and then chat after the class in a conversation that affords Harvey the opportunity to divulge his family disaster.

Harvey Milks It

Kate encourages him to go to the reception. But he won’t go without her. Oh no. So, late on a Sunday afternoon — physics and the concept of time dictate it’s gotta be really late by this point — they find an open boutique, Kate goes through a number of wardrobe changes, and then they make it to the reception in time for the big toast.

You cannot be serious!

But, oh yes, this movie is serious about driving home its point. Actually, consider it a twofer. It’s never too late for romance, this movie posits. And apparently it’s also never, ever too late to arrive at your daughter’s wedding reception.

Unfortunately, that’s a point that has been made numerous times in the past — and much better, with more style. Take the Norwegian movie O’Horten as one recent example. Similar message, superior execution.

And the saddest part of all is that Last Chance Harvey fails to take advantage of its London setting. Yeah, that’s St. Paul’s blurred out on the horizon. Yeah, that’s the London Eye being squeezed into the frame. Yeah, that’s Big Ben.

Oh, wait. Big Ben is beautifully displayed on the movie poster, but not in the movie.

Director Joel Hopkins, a relative newcomer who was actually born in London, had the chance to show off his birthplace. But he blew that too.