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"On the Rocks" finds Sofia Coppola coasting with a sleuthing Murray and Jones

On the Rocks

Starring Bill Murray, Rashida Jones, Marlon Wayans, Jessica Henwick, Jenny Slate and Barbara Bain. Written and directed by Sofia Coppola. Now playing in select cinemas. Streams on Apple TV+ starting Oct. 23. 97 mins. PG


Peter Howell

Movie Critic

Long before it was pandemic fashion, Sofia Coppola's films have explored the lives of bored and isolated people. There were the cloistered girls and women of "The Virgin Suicides" and "The Beguiled," the Hollywood narcissists of "Somewhere" and "The Bling Ring" and, most affectingly, the lonely voyagers of Oscar-lauded "Lost in Translation."

This 2003 portrait of souls adrift paired Bill Murray with a pre-fame Scarlett Johansson as solo travellers to Tokyo whose hermitic worlds briefly intersect with lasting impact.

There's a bit of "Lost in Translation" in the bittersweet infidelity dramedy "On the Rocks," which reunites writer/director Coppola with Murray for only their second film in 17 years (they also did the seasonal TV trifle "A Very Murray Christmas").

"On the Rocks" film pairs a particularly roguish Murray with a rueful Rashida Jones, as a father and daughter, Felix and Laura. They discover truths about more than the relationship they've amusingly conspired to investigate: Laura's marriage to Dean (Marlon Wayans), a tech impresario who may be surfing wayward waters.

Murray is semi-retired New York art dealer Felix, whose name conjures up both the demanding Felix Unger of "The Odd Couple" TV/film comedies and the mischievous title feline of "Felix the Cat" animated antics. Deliberate or not, the name befits Murray's character, who would be more at home in sitcoms or cartoons than the arthouse fare normally pursued by Coppola and presented under the A24 banner.

Felix lives like a spy gone to seed, preferring a swizzle stick to a Walther PPK. An incorrigible flirt, a habit that's brought him a world of fun but also personal pain, he convinces a worried Laura that Dean's constant globe-hopping, in the company of a woman who seems more than a business associate, can only mean trouble. It takes one to know one, right?

Laura has been languishing at home in the spacious SoHo apartment she shares with Dean and their two young daughters. Her family concerns are taxing enough, but Laura, an author, also has a looming book deadline. Dean seems oblivious to his wife's many anxieties.

Laura is ripe for distraction, which Felix is only too happy to provide. He proposes they turn gumshoe and follow Dean to see what he's up to. Slapstick comedy ensues, including a merry chase in which Felix drives a bright red Alpha Romeo that coughs and wheezes like Archie Andrews' jalopy, not the ideal conveyance for a stealth operation.

Murray and Jones make for an amiable match, but there's scant intrigue or drama in the story, which signposts every plot twist with strobe-light intensity. The other characters exist mainly as sketches, including Wayans' clueless Dean, Jenny Slate as Laura's loopy friend and an uncredited Alva Chinn as Laura's stoic mother. Our attention is drawn more to the brushwork of paintings by Monet and Cy Twombly than to the inner lives of Coppola's human creations.

She's chosen to merely coast this time out, hinting at depths unsounded.

Twitter: @peterhowellfilm


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