Waking Ned Devine
Rating -

Comedy (IRELAND); 1998; Rated PG; 91 Minutes

Ian Bannen: Jackie O'Shea
David Kelly: Michael O'Sullivan
Fionnula Flanagan: Annie O'Shea
Susan Lynch: Maggie
James Nesbitt: Pig Finn

Produced by Alexandre Heylan, Richard Holmes, Stephen Margolis, Miara Martell, Glynis Murray and Neil Peplow; Directed and screenwritten by Kirk Jones

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Written by DAVID KEYES

"Waking Ned Devine" begins with such a promising premise that it's possible to understand why the majority of film critics have given it great reviews. And yet it's hard to believe that most of them find it as appealing as "The Full Monty." It's a film that has the right intentions to humor the audience, but it does not deliver what it wants, nor does it establish a reason why a premise like this should exist if it's going to be carried out by laughless and plotty story developments.

The Irish have a strange way of looking at comedy, but then again, so do the British. They showed that tendency in full form with "The Full Monty." Sometimes the humor is even funny. And sometimes it's either stupid or tone-deaf. A movie like "Waking Ned Devine" tries so desperately hard to make the viewer crack a smile, and sometimes it works. Yet most of the time there is this displacement, as if the humor belongs to a whole new premise in the movies.

The film stars Ian Bannen and David Kelly, who are basically two scheming friends that help carry out the film's plot (given the right material, though, they could be just as funny as Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau are when they're together on screen). Bannen plays Jackie O'Shea, and Kelly, Michael O'Sullivan. Both of them live in a small Irish town composed of 52 people, and on the surface, it looks like one of those places where everyone knows one another. That may be true, but these really aren't your typical 'neighborly' residents. The few that we get to meet are either mean-spirited, filthy, moronic, or shallow-written individuals who try to incorporate their personalities as a reason to laugh. There is, for instance, the wheelchair hag named Lizzy Quinn, whose basic motive in the script is to spread her hate on everyone that gets in her way. I've always loved those mean old ladies in movies, but something is wrong with this one that I can't quite pinpoint.

But now on to that premise. First of all, it's a fascinating one; if the film had permitted some decent humor to go with it, the result could have been great. It's about Jackie and Michael, two scheming friends who one day learn that someone in their 52-people village has the winning national lottery ticket in his/her hands. They put their heads together and come up with a great plan: if they can find this winner, maybe they can get in on some of the money.

So, they poke around for awhile, trying to find out who really has the ticket. As it turns out, the one who holds the winnings is Ned Devine, who is found at his cottage dead and grasping the winning ticket in his hand.

Thus, the entire village gets in on their plan to split the winnings once the lottery official has arrived in town. To do this, Ned Devine has to be present, so Michael decides to play Ned once they get there. The whole concept turns the screenwriter/director Kirk Jones loose in a series of situations and twists in the plot that seem to be ideal for the premise, but they never really have any laughs.

And these events all take place in this village, and carrying the twists are some of the other important villagers. One of them is a 'temporary' substitute priest who ponders to himself why he is working for God if he's never met him. There's a pig farmer in town too, but he might have to get rid of his pigs in order to satisfy his girlfriend, who is not about to marry a man that smells like a sty.

Provoked with a sense of misplacement and completely awkward treatment, "Waking Ned Devine" is that village comedy that should not have reached America. If the humor has some sort of heavy artillery to ensure that we laugh our heads off, we can get comedies like "The Full Monty." If it's evoked in a style and treatment that doesn't seem to have any relation or meaning to the premise, than it's not very funny. The movie has two or three scenes between our two main characters that do provoke a crackup, but that's it. Most of it's wasted screen time. Half of it is corny, too.

Oh, but the movie does at least try to divert. Most of the events of this village scam with the national lottery associate are shown as much as possible, and in the list of routines is one of the film's most legendary scenes, in which David Kelley mounts a motor bike buck-naked and heading down the road to Ned's cottage. His shrimpy nude body and helmet on head can all be seen on screen. Nudity is not very funny, but at least here, it's a little amusing.

1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org. Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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