Intertwined stories of people -- and animals -- make for a sentimental tale.
The South African charmer "Cape of Good Hope" proves that Hollywood doesn't have an exclusive on syrupy soap operas.
Then again, this was made by Americans who have moved to South Africa, which might explain all those suds. And they've adhered to one of filmdom's most trusty adages: When in doubt, work in a cute animal.
The plot consists of several intertwined stories involving the employees of the Good Hope Animal Rescue Center. They have various personal problems, most of which can be traced to the fact that they relate better to animals than to people.
The first person we meet is Kate (Debbie Brown), who's having an affair with a married man. She's not being strung along in the hope that some day he'll leave his wife. On the contrary, she's been scared off marriage by her parents' messy divorce. From her standpoint, the fact that her beau is married is actually one of his best qualities.
It's no secret that the vet who regularly visits the pet shelter (Morne Visser) has taken a liking to Kate. Having been widowed two years earlier, he's finally ready to get back in the dating pool. He's sweet, intelligent and available -- all things that should interest Kate but instead frighten her.
Then there's Jean Claude (Eriq Ebouaney), a refugee from the Congo. He's a Ph.D. scientist, but the only work he can find in South Africa is as handyman at the rescue center. He has applied to emigrate to Canada, but in the meantime he falls for a single mother who is having her own problems with a pushy boss and a closed-minded mom.
Last -- and getting short shrift in the storytelling -- is Sharifa (Quanita Adams). She and her husband want children, but she has been unable to get pregnant. Kate is encouraging her to visit a fertility clinic, but Sharifa's husband, who lifts weights every day to demonstrate his virility, isn't very sympathetic.
This is the first movie for writer-director Mark Bamford and his co-screenwriter wife, Suzanne Kay (who, as frequent readers of supermarket tabloids likely know, is Diahann Carroll's daughter). Having lived in South Africa for three years, they touch on some of the country's racial issues (a highly educated black man working as a laborer) but don't highlight them.
On the other hand, they are shameless in twisting the narrative to lay on the schmaltz and in the ways they find to work animals into the scenes. But they do so with a lighthearted sense of humor, as when Kate tells a woman who is considering adopting a puppy, "She makes you look younger."
No matter how heavy-handed the sentimentality gets, the film's intentions seem sincere. "Even snakes need love," the vet points out.
CAPE OF GOOD HOPE
*** out of four stars
Rating: PG-13; strong language, sexual content, violence.