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Everything about the romantic comedy Salmon Fishing in the Yemen sounds unappealing, maybe even ridiculous.

Harriet and Alfred are in a fishy relationship
Harriet and Alfred are in a fishy relationship

Here’s the drill: A wealthy sheikh (Amir Waked) wants to create a river for salmon in the parched deserts of Yemen. His British financial representative (Emily Blunt) asks a fisheries expert (Ewan McGregor) to design the salmon habitat, a multi-million dollar task that he views as sheer folly. McGregor’s Fred, who works for the government, resists until he’s pushed by his boss who’s being pushed by his boss, Kristin Scott Thomas as a manipulative PR woman who works for the Prime Minister. Scott Thomas’s Patricia Maxwell thinks that the salmon project might be a welcome rarity: a feel-good story from the usually distressed Middle East.

Director Lasse Halström works his way through Fred’s crumbling marriage, which must fall apart for romance to blossom between Fred and Blunt’s Harriet. Harriet’s slowly developing attraction for Fred also faces an obstacle: Harriet is involved with a British soldier serving in Afghanistan. When she receives word that her beau is missing and presumed dead, she goes into the expected funk.

McGregor does a nice job of allowing Fred’s charms slowly to peek through the character’s geeky devotion to fish. Scott Thomas makes a spectacularly officious PR woman, and Waked, as the sheikh, projects wisdom and whimsy as a ruler with an outlandish dream and equally outlandish amounts of money to pay for it.

But Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is only intermittently rewarding, with Halström serving up a bit of low-key humor and a plot that’s not particularly compelling. See it for McGregor’s charming turn or, better yet, wait for the DVD. Know this though: McGregor and Blunt have a lot more to offer than Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried, the stars of Hallstrom’s last romance, Dear John.