Michael Caine and Aubrey Plaza are an odd couple in Best Sellers

Couples come odder than Michael Caine and the archly millennial Aubrey Plaza — but not many. The counter-intuitive match-up at the heart of new comedy Best Sellers is so inspired as to surely be a prelude to excellence. The appetite is whetted by their entrances. Cast as grandly unproductive cult novelist Harris Shaw, Caine answers his phone with a bark: “He’s dead!” In uptown Manhattan, Plaza’s hard-up publisher Lucy Stanbridge does a perfect gangling double take at a bookshop window filled with copies of a literary sensation who has one thing in common with all literary sensations: not having been published by her. The red ink is lapping. Her last hope is Shaw, foul-mouthed and nihilistic but with a battered manuscript that becomes a comeback novel. A US book tour follows.

“I won’t do the bloody tour,” Caine grouses, and for a moment you hear the curt nonchalance of Harry Palmer and Jack Carter. The film (directed by Lina Roessler) should have listened. Instead, the two leads set out on a road movie that grows more inert the further it travels, filled with stock digs at social media and nonsense supposed British profanity. Worse still is the sentimentality. The film takes two masters of deadpan and makes them work with tear-stained treacle. Rather than bounce off each other, Plaza and Caine slide defeated side-by-side down the face of the movie.

★★☆☆☆

On digital platforms in the UK from October 18

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