There aren't many films which can pay explicit homage to the conventions of 1940s noir, while having enough popcorn-spilling jolts and credibly flawed human characters to feel fresh and contemporary. Ole Bornedal's Danish thriller, Just Another Love Story, is one.
It stars Anders W Berthelsen as a crime-scene photographer who'd rather be capturing exotic landscapes for National Geographic. One day when he's out with his wife and children, his car stalls on a busy road, resulting in a pile-up that leaves a young woman (Rebecka Hemse) in a coma. Berthelsen visits her in hospital, only for her distraught relatives to mistake him for her boyfriend – not the first or last time that Just Another Love Story skates between film noir and black comedy.
The next twist comes when the woman wakes up, but has become partially blind and amnesiac. Berthelsen continues the deception, telling himself that he's assisting her recovery, but knowing that the stories he spins for her about their backpacking escapades are his own fantasies of a more adventurous life. But what really happened to Hemse before the car accident? And who's the mystery man with a bandaged face who patrols the hospital corridors in a wheelchair?
Just Another Love Story is both a moving depiction of a mid-life crisis and a mind-bending neo-noir that should be filed alongside Oldboy, Memento and The Last Seduction. More or less every scene has a nail-biting confrontation, an outlandish twist, some stylish editing or a burst of gory violence, but Bornedal never cheats. It's all integral to a plot which keeps one foot in everyday reality, however far the other foot dangles over a canyon of temptresses, multimillionaires, and diamond-smuggling gangsters.
The only flaw is that less-than-catchy title, which would have been more appropriate for The Proposal, a Sandra Bullock romcom which starts by imitating Green Card, The Devil Wears Prada, and Bullock's earlier vehicle, Two Weeks Notice, before changing direction and imitating Meet the Parents, New in Town and The Family Stone. Bullock is cast against type as a bitch-queen New York book editor, feared and loathed by everyone in her office. Ryan Reynolds is cast even further against type as her dogged Ugly Betty of an assistant. When Bullock's bosses inform her that she's about to be deported back to Canada, she claims that she's engaged to Reynolds, and he goes along with the fraud in return for a promotion. They couldn't possibly fall in love in a million years, you might think, but how wrong you would be.
Reynolds and Bullock are funny as long as they're surrounded by sceptical colleagues in the big city, but the comedy dissipates when they fly to Alaska for the weekend, and we have to wade through lots of syrupy pastoral scenes of Reynolds reconnecting with his goofy, prickly but oh-so-warm family. The film then deteriorates into a series of ever more desperate set pieces: Bullock rescuing a puppy from an eagle; Bullock watching a Cuban male stripper; Bullock trying to do a tribal chant and rapping instead; Bullock falling out of a speedboat. None of these incidents has any consequences, not even for the puppy.