Sexagenarian rom-com proves a limp romp

The Came You (M, 97 minutes)

Two stars

Before Gavin & Stacey star James Corden took over The Late Late Show in 2015 and gave us Carpool Karaoke, Scottish funnyman Craig Ferguson's 10 years hosting the CBS program gave us some of the wackiest, wittiest, most sublime schtick seen on US network TV.

Kathie Lee Gifford, Craig Ferguson and Elizabeth Hurley in Then Came You. Picture: Umbrella Entertainment

Kathie Lee Gifford, Craig Ferguson and Elizabeth Hurley in Then Came You. Picture: Umbrella Entertainment

His opening monologues occasionally featured hand puppets. His sidekick was a gay robot skeleton named Geoff Peterson. He cavorted most nights with a pantomime horse. He once started a show with a song and dance routine about Dr Who.

His interviews with the likes of Carrie Fisher, Julie Andrews, Kirsten Bell, Mila Kunis, Robin Williams, Salman Rushdie and Ricky Gervais stand to this day as highly engaging, occasionally absurd subversions of the "talk show" format - flirty and flippant but also authentic and heartfelt.

Look up the old clips from his TV show on YouTube and marvel at the freewheeling glee generated by his rascally improvisation and genuine curiosity.

There's a reason why his interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2009 won awards. And why his 2007 segment defending Britney Spears after she went off the rails and shaved her head in front of the paparazzi has been trending lately now that the world seems to have finally caught up with the former alcoholic Ferguson's plea for understanding and compassion.

Even when he made Canberra-bashing an international sport in 2012 by egging on guest Guy Pearce to poke fun at Australia's capital city - prompting the Priscilla star to later apologise for "being such a dickhead" - it was impossible not to delight in Ferguson's wicked, winking sense of mischief.

A drummer in a Glasgow punk band before turning to comedy, his performance style has long been to challenge convention. In fact, on The Late Late Show he'd ostentatiously rip up the prepared interview questions as his guest sat to chat so he could let their conversation - and goofing - unfold naturally, awkward pauses and all.

If only Ferguson had been allowed to let rip with the limp script of Then Came You.

This terribly twee romantic comedy was written and produced by its leading lady, US morning TV show host Kathie Lee Gifford, who apparently hit it off with Ferguson a few years ago when they were guest presenters on NBC's The Today Show.

The way Ferguson tells it, over lunch one day he told her they should do a movie together: "And then I forgot about it, because that's the way I behave. Then she wrote the movie! She called me up and said, 'I've written the movie', and I was like, 'Oh, God'."

Filmed in suitably gorgeous and green parts of Scotland, Then Came You pairs Gifford's grieving widow from Nantucket with Ferguson's grouchy Scottish inn-keeper.

Annabelle is travelling the world with her dead husband's ashes on a better-late-than-never bucket-list tour to all of their favorite movie locations. Naturally, Howard, her host at a loch-side hotel, detests Braveheart.

Daffy hijinks ensue, with increasingly silly tartan costumes for Gifford, multiple musical montages so she can show off her singing and Elizabeth Hurley popping by as Howard's unsympathetic fiancee.

Just like the pretty chocolate box that contains dead Fred's ashes (yep, Forrest Gump was his favourite movie), Then Came You does exactly what it says on the lid. It's a quaintly old-school heartwarmer - sweet and cheesy and mushy.

There's certainly something to be said for a rom-com that aspires to speak to sexagenarians. But the potential here for a jolly romp is wasted.

The Ferguson-Gifford banter has its flirty-and-little-bit-dirty moments, but the clumsy, incident-filled script never lets the co-stars find their groove.

He sneaks in a few good lines ("I do like a happy ending. I think that's why my favorite movie is Silence of the Lambs.") but Ferguson's charming curmudgeon routine is mostly curtailed for corny cuteness.

For a movie that has a lot of heart behind it - widow Gifford was inspired to write it after her own loss - the antics and emotions are contrived and cloying.

Maybe they should have just ripped up that movie script and filmed Ferguson's lunch with Gifford instead.

This story Limp rom-com for sexagenarians first appeared on The Canberra Times.