“Lunch with Charles” is a romantic comedy that is neither romantic nor comedic. This soggy, antiseptic tale of crossed cultures and conflicting aspirations may not be the worst film of the year, but it is damn near the most boring.
Tong (Sean Lau) lives in Hong Kong and has yet to find success as a singer/songwriter, keeping a day job as a realtor to pay his bills. His wife April (Theresa Lee) lives across the Pacific in Vancouver and works as a marketing executive. The oceanic chasm between them seems to have been in place for a ridiculously long period, and April makes a belated ultimatum that Tong join her Canada or the marriage is over.
When Tong finally arrives, he discovers April went to Banff as part of a musical promotional tour. As luck would have it, Banff is home to a B&B run by Natasha (Bif Naked), an aspiring rocker, and her lover Matthew (Nicholas Lea), a former travel-writer. Natasha and Michael’s relationship has been fraying as their B&B operation sinks into financial ill-health. Through circumstances way too complicated to explain, Tong somehow hooks up with Natasha while April gets the hots for Matthew. Can this mess be sorted out? Is anyone in the audience still awake?
Filmmaker Michael Parker claims “Lunch with Charles” is autobiographically inspired. If this is a genuine case of art imitating life, then Parker had a damn dull life. None of the characters are even the slightest bit authentic, engaging or even amusing, and the film tries vainly to pepper the proceedings with Chinese-flavored humor (when Tong is informed April is in Banff, he thinks she is the bath and checks her shower…n’yuk n’yuk n’yuk).
The acting in “Lunch with Charles” is so tired that it seems the film was shot while the actors were waiting to go to sleep. Sean Lau and Theresa Lee have no rapport with each other or the camera, and Nicholas Lea (an “X-Files” supporting cast member who was briefly heralded by USA Today in 2000 as the next potential big screen star) is terminally wooden. Tom Scholte tries to provide some drama as the villain of the tale, an Irish brewer with an arrogant demeanor, but he comes across like a cranky prig with a phony accent. Only Bif Naked seems to connect with the camera, offering a nicely off-beat presence which demands attention whether she’s belting out a song or swinging an axe in a woodpile. Sadly, her character is sadly with limp dialogue and her radiant personality is not strong enough to make gold out of the straw screenplay.
However, all is not hopeless here. John Houtman’s cinematography is uncommonly stunning, offering glorious sweeps of the Hong Kong urban miasma and the serenity of Banff’s mountains. The film is beautifully lit and blocked, and it is not an exaggeration to say this is one of the best photographed features of the year. “Lunch with Charles” may not be a great film to see, but it is a stunning film to watch.