Jack (Pegg) mistakes Nancy (Bell) for his blind date. Nancy plays along until the truth emerges and Jack flips out.
Thoroughly British romcom Man Up is built from all the right genre-appropriate parts: a quirky but believable set-up, two aggressively charming leads, actual jokes, an ’80s-themed dance-off, a punch-the-air run for love and a cuddly family so lovable you want to adopt them wholesale. As you’d expect from the talent behind voice-over comedy In A World..., Lake Bell nails a pitch-perfect Home Counties accent as unlucky-in-love Nancy, while Simon Pegg brings his best geek-cuteness out of the cupboard for the recently scorned Jack.
The accidental blind date premise is fun, setting up both the obligatory meet-cute and end-of-second-act bust-up. What’s refreshing here is that, early doors, Jack and Nancy’s date — drinks on the South Bank, then Cantina followed by bowling — feels like a real date. The chit-chat, be it about movies (The Silence Of The Lambs, Wall Street) or jobs and aspirations feels funny and relatable.
Sadly, the recognisable comedic tenor wobbles during their night-long shenanigans. Creepy schooldays stalker Sean (Kinnear) jars, feeling like he’s stumbled on set from the broader comedy next door as he plays both the boorish bad guy (standing in the way of our star-crossed lovers) and prattish clown (smearing chocolate mousse around Bell’s pursed lips).
Jack the romantic and Nancy the cynic, meanwhile, are true to their characters, except when they aren’t. The latter is Bridget Jonesy in her never-get-a-man list-making (“Put yourself out there, take chances, engage with life, get stronger thighs”), but when the plot requires, she transforms into an überconfident dance floor rug-cutter or sultry sexpot.
Before the big reveal that Nancy isn’t the 24 year-old triathlete Jack thought she was, there’s giddy fun in seeing two charismatic comedians having a ball, getting drunk and messing about in a date that genuinely, really feels real (only with more gags and better lighting). It’s a shame, then, that after things go fully pear-shaped, Nancy’s character turns into a defeated blubberer, thumping her head against the wall and only occasionally capable of speech.
Forgive it a few flaws and Ben Palmer’s follow-up to The Inbetweeners Movie is still extremely endearing, getting the very best from its talented leads and boasting a bowling montage that’ll make you hit your local ten pin on a loyalty card-worthy basis. Tess Morris’ promising script also benefits from an excellent supporting cast (notably Ken Stott, Harriet Walker and Sharon Horgan), but the tonally uneven finished product is less than the sum of its impressive parts.
If it could decide whether it was a cute romcom or a dirty one, Man Up would be a real gem, but as charming as it is, it falls between two stools and never manages to, ahem, Man Up.