Britain’s Kingsley Ben-Adir was highly praised for playing Malcolm X in One Night in Miami and made for a decent Barack Obama in Showtime’s The Comey Rule. But mimicry alone, alas, does not ignite the ganja in Bob Marley: One Love, a reverential homage to the Jamaican reggae icon that is sorely lacking the great man’s blazing charisma.
Director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s film begins in 1976 with Bob and wife Rita (Lashana Lynch) almost being slain by gunmen at their Kingston home, a nerve-jangling brush with death that marks the film’s most dramatic and emotional episode.
Green and his three co-writers frame this as a misfortune Bob shrugged off triumphantly by recording his landmark album Exodus. The film, in contrast, never quite manages to, remaining in a muted funk for much of its running time.
King Richard director Green tries to vary the mood through hectic activity, whisking Bob to London and then across Europe on a whirlwind tour. For all the terrific music we are treated to en route, however, it’s all rather glum and listless, characteristics it shares with a central performance that rarely extends beyond icon cosplay.
Ben-Adir diligently duplicates Marley’s distinctive patois and jerky on-stage movements. But there’s no alchemical amalgam between artiste and thespian like there was in Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, just the dispiriting spectacle of a hard-working actor doing his best and coming up short.
Fans have been waiting a while for an authorised Marley biopic. Now it’s arrived, every little thing is sadly not alright.
Bob Marley: One Love is in US theaters and UK cinemas from February 14.