In this cocktail peanut of a movie, Rashida Jones plays Laura, a would-be writer living in a spacious Soho loft with her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) and their two gorgeous daughters. Like many harried married couples, Laura and Dean’s relationship has morphed from fun and sex (an early scene observes them escaping their wedding reception to take a spontaneous dip in a club swimming pool) to supply chains and logistics: Who’s going to get the kids to school? Who’s going to go to the store and cook dinner? When are you leaving for that business trip? Who are you again?
It’s when Laura begins to suspect that Dean is having an affair with an attractive work associate that her father Felix shows up. A wealthy art dealer and storied boulevardier, Felix knows the name of every maitre d’ in Manhattan, reflexively flirts with every waitress and coyly encourages Laura’s worst fears. Soon, the two are tooling around the city, following Dean and engaging in some overdue father-daughter bonding.
Did I mention that Felix is played by Bill Murray? With this setup, and this cast, “On the Rocks” has all the makings of a classic Sofia Coppola movie, in which characters are set adrift amid a captivatingly hermetic environment. But in this case, the kind of discursive mood piece that Coppola has perfected over her 21-year directing career turns into something surprisingly inert and uninvolved.
The most lively moments of “On the Rocks” don't belong to Jones or Murray but to Jenny Slate, who pops up throughout the film as an amusingly self-involved mom-friend of Laura’s. But even those bits are little more than cliches cadged straight from the Carrie Fisher handbook. Wayans’s Dean never comes into full focus, instead flitting in and out of the proceedings as dictated by Coppola’s schematic plot. “On the Rocks” might have been an intriguing emotional triangle between two men competing for the respect and affection of the woman they both adore, but this one is missing its hypotenuse.
As for Jones and Murray, they exude wry, lived-in familiarity but it’s there that credibility ends. What has made Coppola’s films so distinctive in the past is their hothouse specificity: Whether she’s immersing viewers in a repressed middle-class household or a posh Tokyo hotel or Versailles, she is masterful at conveying not just the material culture of a place and time, but its emotional weather. New York, it seems, has finally bested her: In “On the Rocks,” the city is virtually unrecognizable, denuded of people and human energy; Laura and Felix make their way through streets that are suspiciously empty, and into the kind of too-pretty upper class redoubts that recall the surface gloss of Woody Allen, but none of his acute observational wit.
Things happen in “On the Rocks,” but the caper-flick high jinks viewers expect to ensue never come to full, cockeyed fruition. Murray’s signature deadpan delivery will please his fans, but it doesn't quite line up with Felix’s expansive persona; he’s a kick in the pants, sure, but lacks the drill-down intensity of the most practiced seducer. He’s as lightweight as the scaffolding for a story that depends on a visit to Cartier for a plot point, not to mention a recurring role for the family chauffeur. “On the Rocks” wears its privilege like a spanking new seersucker jacket. It would be fun to watch as a slice of aspirational escapism if it seemed the least bit lived-in.
R. At the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema One Loudoun and Cinema Arts Theatre; available on Apple TV+ on Oct. 23. Contains some strong language and sexual references. 96 minutes.