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‘The Lovebirds’: Cracking up is easy to do in dark breakup comedy

Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani display expert timing as the unhappy couple caught up a deadly criminal case.

An unhappy couple (Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani) gets caught up in a criminal case on the way to a dinner party in “The Lovebirds.”
Netflix

“I’m sorry I have to kill you guys. You seem like a nice if somewhat annoying couple. But if it makes you feel any better, I WILL get over it.” – Talking Villain Speech in “The Lovebirds.”

In the 2010 dark slapstick comedy “Date Night,” Steve Carrell and Tina Fey played a couple whose plans for a romantic evening go spectacularly wrong when they get entangled in all sorts of dangerous criminal activity, through no fault of their own.

In the 2016 dark slapstick comedy “Game Night,” Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman played a couple whose plans for a night of board gaming with friends goes spectacularly wrong when they get entangled in all sorts of dangerous criminal activity, through no fault of their own.

Meet “The Lovebirds.” Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae play a couple whose plans to attend a dinner party go spectacularly wrong when…

Well. You know the drill.

Originally slated for a spring theatrical release before COVID-19, “The Lovebirds” is now coming straight to Netflix, and while it breaks zero ground in the originality and freshness department, it’s a wickedly funny and quite goofy comedy that easily would have earned its R rating in theaters due to the liberal sprinkling of the f-bomb and some fantastically brutal comedic fight sequences. Thanks to the sure-handed, fast-paced work and creative framing by director Michael Showalter (an alum of “The State” who helmed the Nanjiani-starring “The Big Sick”); a clever screenplay by Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall, and the impeccable comedic timing of Nanjiani and Rae, “The Lovebirds” is one of the funniest movies of 2020.

In the opening moments, we meet Nanjiani’s Jibran and Rae’s Leilani as they’re falling in love and they’re in that zone where they’re just mesmerized by one another. “You’re unbelievable,” Jibran says to Leilani, his eyes sparkling with adoration.

Cut to four years later. “You’re unbelievable!” Jibran says to Leilani, but he says it with utter annoyance. They’re in the middle of one of those stupid arguments that’s not really about the subject at hand, which in this case is whether they’d win if they were contestants on “The Amazing Race.” Every little thing Leilani says and does is like an emotional paper cut to Jibran, and vice versa. They’re in the car on the way to a friend’s house for dinner when they say at the same time: “This isn’t working” and agree to end it.

And that’s when the car slams into a guy on a bicycle, and the guy scrambles to his feet and pedals away, and a man claiming to be a cop commandeers the car and says Bicycle Guy is a criminal, and the chase is on, and a few moments later, Bicycle Guy is dead, the so-called cop has fled the scene, and eyewitnesses are sure Jibran and Leilani have deliberately run over Bicycle Guy. A young Caucasian woman dials 911 and gives a description of the suspects: “She just happens to be African-American, he just happens to be a person of color, but I don’t think they’re murderers because they’re minorities, I think they’re murderers because they literally just killed a guy.” HA.

All Jibran and Leilani have to do is explain to the authorities what really happened — after all, there has to be security camera footage to back up their story — but if they did that we wouldn’t have a movie, so they go on the lam and take it upon themselves to solve the case, whatever the case is. (They have Bicycle Guy’s phone, and by scrolling through his text messages they can begin to piece the puzzle together.)

Remember: Jibran and Leilani had just broken up when they were thrust together on this perilous journey, where they have no one but each other to lean on as they dodge the cops searching for them and find themselves bluffing their way through one dangerous encounter after another. (In one typically ridiculous but hilarious set-piece, they break into a house occupied by a bunch of “bros” and get into a violent encounter in a back bedroom that goes unheard because the bros are cranking “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind.) And just when we think “Lovebirds” can’t get any more bat-bleep crazy, our estranged-but-still-together couple enter a secret and mysterious “Eyes Wide Shut” world, complete with masks and orgies. Wait, what?

Just in case we didn’t figure out Jibran and Leilani have become immersed in a real-life and quite deadly version of “The Amazing Race,” Leilani notes, “This is like ‘The Amazing Race,’ but with dead people.” That’s it. That’s the elevator pitch for this movie.