Using mistaken identity as the central conceit in a romcom is hardly the most original move. Just like Sandra Bullock, who can’t find a way to tell Bill Pullman that she’s not the fiancée of his unconscious brother in While You Were Sleeping, or Tom Hanks, who can’t risk telling Meg Ryan that the man she falls for on the internet is the competition that threatens to sink her life’s work in You’ve Got Mail, everything conspires against quirky thirty-something Nancy (Bell) from coming clean after she starts going along with being Jessica, the younger and actual blind date that funnyman Jack (Pegg) is supposed to meet in this gleefully unrealistic cotton candy fare with a strong 1990’s vibe.
Neither the familiarity nor the froth is necessarily a problem for crafting an effective piece of escapist entertainment. And Man Up does deliver an unwrinkled, readily digestible story arc filled with streamlined gags that you can follow on autopilot and feel mildly amused by. The decision to place the big reveal halfway through, followed by some uncomfortable truth-telling, even feels almost daring in how it lays bare the hypocrisy behind the rituals and etiquette of modern-day dating. Said temporarily edgy tone is, of course, quickly replaced by mush again, for the film to end in Love Actually-esque romantic urgency on time. But overall, it’s a smooth if predictable ride where the exuberant, innocent good cheer just about offsets the tiredness of déjà vu.
Ultimately, the reason why the film doesn’t really take off probably lies with the casting. Pegg and Bell both have likeable screen presence but their outward, neurosis-charged antics tend to overlap instead of coalesce, often creating a high-decibel impression of manic activity and seldom sending your hormones racing through vicarious romance.
Man Up | Directed by Ben Palmer (UK 2015) with Simon Pegg, Lake Bell. Starts July 30.