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Review: Money a so-so motive for 'Waking Ned Devine'

Web posted on:
Wednesday, December 02, 1998 3:26:40 PM EST

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- I wonder how the folks out in Ireland respond to all these movies that portray them as Guinness-guzzlin' spray guns of love, dancin' and connivin' and fiddlin' their lives away for the betterment of low-income humanity.

To judge from the movies, there isn't any middle ground when you're Irish. You're either a salt-of-the-earth type or you're a rage-blinded terrorist. I've even seen a couple of films that feature salt-of-the-earth terrorists! You know -- hug the kids, clog dance to the Chieftains, blow up a church. But it all sounds nice, because of the cool accent.

Theatrical preview for "Waking Ned Devine"

Windows Media: 28k or 56k
Real: 28k or 56k

"Waking Ned Devine," the perfectly competent new Irish working-class comedy from director Kirk Jones, falls into the first category. The guzzlin', connivin', and fiddlin' isn't a sideline; it's apparently what most of the people in the village do for a living.

Enjoyable enough

This is one of those films like "The Full Monty" that introduces the characters, establishes a particular tone, then gets out of the way as nothing of any particular urgency happens for the next 90 minutes. The characters are enjoyable enough, though, and you can almost get a contact high from all the alcohol that's being consumed.

The village of Tully More has a population of 52 people, and, as the movie begins, one of them has just won a 6.8 million-pound lottery prize. (At first I thought that nobody would be able to lift it, but then I realized that they were talking about foreign currency.)

Jackie O'Shea (Ian Bannen) has determined what's going on via a newspaper article. Trying to stay a step ahead of the rest of the population, he and his best friend, Michael O'Sullivan (the rail-thin David Kelly), attempt to narrow down who the winner might be through a series of ploys that include (of course) buying drinks for people and throwing parties.

Why they couldn't just ask who the winner is is beyond me. I guess then you couldn't blow 25 minutes watching a sporadically amusing nothing that will soon spread like a beer gut into a sporadically amusing 90-minute nothing. They're hoping, of course, to become buddies with the winner so that he'll throw some of that newly minted poundage their way.

A slight complication

The thing is, they're already friends with the winner. He just happens to be dead. Their old crony Ned Devine is soon found in his cottage by Jackie, stiff as a board and gripping the winning ticket. The shock of stumbling into all that money has sent Ned to the other side, but Jackie quickly receives an important message from the afterlife. He convinces himself through a dream that Ned wants the entire town to share in the winnings. The catch is that Ned isn't around to collect.

One day, a lottery official shows up as expected to meet with Ned. Through a series of miscues and outright lies, the job of portraying Ned falls on the painfully honest/inarticulate shoulders of Michael. The townspeople (taking a break from drinking) have agreed to go along with the ploy, insisting to anyone who'll listen that Michael is actually Ned.

There's a funny scene when Michael, sitting on the toilet and drinking a glass of whiskey to calm himself, reads Ned's vital information off a piece of paper to the lottery guy in the other room. It didn't have me screaming, but it was sort of funny. That's the problem with the entire movie, though. It just melts away like an ice cube.

There are a couple of minor subplots that never get the proper attention, including a nice one concerning a love affair between local hog farmer Pigg Finn (James Nesbitt) and Maggie (Susan Lynch), the town hotty. Maggie loves Pigg, but can't bear the smell he carries with him after wrestling with pigs all day. Jackie tries to help by giving Pigg a basket of "fruity soaps," but they don't really do the job.

There's a lot of charming dialogue between Pigg and Maggie, then we move on again to people sitting there and licking their chops over the money. I also liked a couple of conversations between a visiting priest and Maggie's wise-beyond-his-years son, Maurice (Robert Hickey). They're pretty cute, but what they have to do with Ned is anybody's guess.

Rent it.

"Waking Ned Devine" contains a little bit of profanity, and the bare backsides of a couple of senior citizens. I won't remember a thing about this movie in two days, and not because I'm pouring 'em back. Rated PG. 91 minutes.

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