From the Jan. 16 Oregonian....
"Last Chance Harvey" is basically "Before Sunrise" for middle-aged people -- only with less interesting conversations and a more formulaic construction. It's handsomely made and contains few surprises. But before completely burying this warm-hearted little project with faint praise, I also want to stress that "Last Chance Harvey" contains two very fine lead performances that make it quite pleasant to watch.
Those performances belong to Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, playing two lonely, awkward workaholics. Harvey (Hoffman) is a jingle writer whose career is collapsing while he's stuck in London for his semi-estranged daughter's wedding. (Hoffman plays the piano in this, and if you get bored, have fun pretending "Harvey" is a toned-down sequel to "Ishtar.") Kate (Thompson) is a wannabe writer working for Britain's Public Statistics Agency -- stuck with the thankless job of trying to survey people at Heathrow Airport as they trudge off their transatlantic flights.
Writer/director Joel Hopkins ("Jump Tomorrow") draws some blunt parallels before bringing these two together in an airport bar. There are back-to-back scenes in which Kate and Harvey feel lost among younger, hipper and/or better-adjusted people. And after they meet for a conversation-driven whirlwind courtship, the story runs afoul of formula: There's a wacky clothes-trying-on montage, a fateful agreement to meet in a public spot the next day, a manufactured late-film crisis and, good grief, even a race across town to make a last-chance romantic gesture.
I will say that Hopkins paints by numbers in a mature, responsible fashion; other than writing a needless subplot in which Kate's mother worries that her Polish neighbor is a serial killer, his execution of these clichés is calm and mature.
But Hoffman and Thompson elevate the material to a surprising degree, because they each just steadfastly refuse to phone it in. I loved how they both let themselves look frazzled and uncool and very much their own respective ages and heights, like a rom-com Mutt and Jeff. Hoffman (who's said he's very proud of this performance, and I can see why) radiates the nervous, ashamed desperation of an old-school guy being left behind; he was once the life of the party, and now he might as well have the word "NEEDY" tattooed on his forehead. When he tries to engage Kate -- who describes herself as being "comfortable with being disappointed" -- it's as if Harvey is scraping up what remains of his charm and holding it out to her in a thimble. A scene where he finally mans up and gives a father-of-the-bride toast is devastating, and Hoffman just kills whenever Harvey owns up to his mediocrity and tiny failures. He and Thompson give this somewhat underwhelming story a genuine human core.
B-minus; 92 minutes; rated PG-13 for brief strong language.
'Last Chance Harvey' (The Oregonian, Jan. 16, 2009)