Waking Ned Devine
Directed by Kirk Jones. Starring Ian Bannen, David Kelly, Dermot Kerrigan, James Nesbitt, Susan Lynch, Robert Hickey, Fionnula Flanagan, Eileen Dromey. (1998, PG, 91 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 8, 1999
With a minimum of effort you can picture the brass at Fox Searchlight, eager grins plastered across their faces, preparing for the imminent release of what is almost certain to be this year's The Full Monty. Like that wildly popular U.K. import, Waking Ned Devine has a terrific ensemble cast composed of no actor American audiences are likely to recognize (Bannen was in Flight of the Phoenix way back in 1966), lilting accents, and nude men doing remarkably silly things in the name of money. Unfortunately, it's not all that (though, come to think of it, The Full Monty wasn't really all that, either). Predicated on the slimmest of notions, this debut by Jones is so cuddly-cute in its desire to be pleasing that it's all but transparent; what you can see of it is cobbled together out of some decidedly rancorous clichés. In Waking Ned Devine, the Irish are dual-fisted, opportunistic whiskey machines out to score the big haul in the name of village solidarity. They're also wildly funny, eccentric, and lovable. These polar extremes are not mutually exclusive in Jones' world, obviously. It's a County Cork crock, to be sure, but Jones and his cast serve it up in high style, milking it for all it's worth. Bannen and Kelly play Jackie O'Shea and Michael Sullivan, a pair of aging Irish scalawags who wend their way through their twilight years sunning themselves on the rocky beaches of their Tully More home and playing -- as does everyone else -- the Irish National Lottery. When a local resident -- the elderly and besainted Ned Devine -- arrives at the winning combination and then promptly expires, the men take it upon themselves to liberate the ticket from the deceased, defraud the lottery board, and share the winnings among the 52 assorted townspeople. Chaos, as they say, ensues. On its face, the film has a touch of the old Ealing comedies about it, but for all the mugging and blarney and frothy pints of Guinness, Waking Ned Devine is as thin as old David Kelly's sunken chest. At its worst, it reinforces those hoary Emerald Isle stereotypes of the scheming, drunken Irishman; at its best, it's an ingratiating, weepy testament to the resourcefulness of those zany Irish. Either way, it's not really all that much. It does, however, have some wonderful turns from both Bannen and Kelly, as well as Dromey as the town's reviled curmudgeon. Jones, to his credit, directs with a sure hand and makes the most of some of the world's most gorgeous geography, filling downtime (of which there is little -- the film boasts some superb editing) with sweeping, panoramic shots of the rugged Isle of Man coastline (where the film was shot despite its Irish setting), velvet green cliffs rushing to meet the crashing breakers below. Sodden, middle-of-the-lane humor of this sort has never bothered me before -- I just think perhaps the Irish might enjoy being the subject of a film with slightly less alcohol and a smidgen more honesty to it for once.