The British-American hybrid “Hampstead” is predictable even by romantic-comedy standards, but the charms of mismatched but oddly compatible stars Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson are not to be dismissed.
Keaton plays Emily Walters, an American widow living in London’s well-to-do Hampstead Heath neighborhood, barely staying afloat in the apartment she and her husband Charlie shared. A year after his death, Emily still holds a lot of anger at Charlie, who she learned had run up some serious debuts and was having an affair with a younger woman.
Emily’s busybody neighbor Fiona (a poorly utilized Lesley Manville) tries to set up Emily with her accountant, James (Jason Watkins), an obsequious drip who looks like the love child of Austin Powers and Squidward Tentacles. Emily is happy to accept James’ help sorting out her finances, but is too polite in rebuffing his advances.
One day, rummaging in the attic and finding Charlie’s binoculars, Emily spots a hermit-like man (Gleeson) in a tiny shack in the park across the street. Emily tries to introduce herself to the man, Donald Horner, but finds his manner as prickly as a porcupine. She tries again, and they have a conversation — which leads to something resembling a date.
Donald (who is based, loosely, on a real person) has lived in his Walden-esque shack for 17 years, desiring no more than to be left alone to grow carrots and read books. But when a developer (Brian Protheroe), who’s also Fiona’s husband, makes plans to build luxury apartments on the land where Donald’s shack sits, Emily urges a recalcitrant Donald to go to court to protect his home.
Director Joel Hopkins, who guided Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson through late-stage romance in “Last Chance Harvey,” relies heavily on his stars’ natural screen personas — Keaton’s anxiety-prone chatterbox and Gleeson’s gruff teddy bear. This turns out to be a smart move, since the sweet-and-sour pairing yields humorous and tender moments.
Alas, Robert Festinger’s script runs Keaton and Gleeson through every romantic and courtroom cliche imaginable — though there’s a bit with a surprise witness (Phil Davis) that’s quite funny. “Hampstead” works best when its stars aren’t stuck running through the plot points, and can just relax and let their characters be themselves.
Opened June 14 in select cities; opens Friday, June 21, at Megaplex Gateway (Salt Lake City), Megaplex Jordan Commons (Sandy) and Megaplex Thanksgiving Point (Lehi). Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material and language. Running time: 102 minutes.