To say this movie requires an utter suspension of disbelief is a vast understatement. The only thing more obvious is where this trifling, predictable story is headed. And the longer it takes its sweet time to get there, the more you refuse to take the bait.

What do you call a school of actors swimming upstream against an underwhelming script? How about “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”? Yes, that will do, even if the movie won’t.


It’s not like Kristin Scott Thomas, Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt don’t spawn copious amounts of charm, because they do. But even they don’t have the strength to make a successful run against roiling rapids of over-plotted comedy and drama that amalgamate into a swirling eddy of missed opportunity.


Surprising, since the script was penned by three-time Oscar-nominee Simon Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire”), who tries in vain to infuse “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” with the same blend of quirkiness and heart that he brought early in his career to “The Full Monty” and “Among Giants.” This time, though, he and director Lasse Hallstrom (“Chocolat”) try much too hard to win us over, eventually reaching the point of diminishing returns once the half-dozen or so busy plot strands finally come together in a ridiculous finale.


They throw everything they can think of – image-conscious politicians, a good-hearted sheik, a troubled marriage, a soldier missing in action and a couple of terrorist plots – in trying to tell what should have been a simple story about a man and woman casting their fates to an impossible dream of bringing salmon fishing to the arid desertscapes of Yemen. And waiting there at the end of the film’s hook is a whopper romance between a pair of impossibly beautiful actors pretending to be lovable losers.


To say this movie requires an utter suspension of disbelief is a vast understatement. The only thing more obvious is where this trifling, predictable story is headed. And the longer it takes its sweet time to get there, the more you refuse to take the bait. That’s saying something, too, when the lure consists of McGregor and Blunt, two highly appealing actors who overcome their complete lack of chemistry with performances that suggest depth where none exists.


They play Fred, a nerdy British government flack charged with promoting good will between England and the Arab world, and Harriet, a high-strung publicist for a stinking rich sheik (Amr Waked) who wants the UK to seed his desert lands with a salmon run in hopes of building his nation’s pride and economic health. Each is already involved romantically with another: Fred with his shrewish, workaholic wife (Rachael Sterling); and Harriet with a hunky British soldier (Tom Mison) about to be shipped off to Afghanistan. But you’d have to have fish for brains if you don’t know straight away that these two are meant to be together. The trouble is that it takes what seems like forever for them to realize this, further challenging our already frayed patience.


Luckily, McGregor, Blunt and Thomas, hilariously foul-mouthed as the British prime minister’s chief image builder, keep you glued when lesser actors would have had you beating a path for the exits far, far sooner. But even they are no match for a story stuffed with too many subplots and an uneasy mix of quirkiness and drama that send the film’s tone sprawling all over the map. After a while, you’re never sure if scenes are meant to be serious or funny. It winds up just being one big mess that completely overshadows a host of fine performances and a worthwhile message about opposites attracting, in both a diplomatic and romantic sense. Leaving little wonder why “Salmon,” like its namesake, ultimately winds up dead in the water.


SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN (PG-13 for some violence and sexual content, and brief language.) Cast includes Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor, Kristin Scott Thomas and Amr Waked. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom. 2.5 stars out of 4.