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[whitespace] 'The Closer You Get'
Photograph by Patrick Redmond

Road Worriers: Ewan Stewart (from left), Dessie Gallagher and Pat Short wonder if there will ever be any eligible women for them to date in 'The Closer You Get.'

Black Irish

Aileen Ritchie's 'The Closer You Get' doesn't even come close

By Nicole McEwan

IN 1997, a wee British import took the world by storm, grossing many millions, garnering four Oscar nominations and adding a new catchphrase to the international lexicon. Male stripping, once solely synonymous with the Chippendales, now became known as doing the full Monty. A certifiable phenomenon, Peter Cattaneo's comedy with a social conscience made Robert Carlyle a star and proved to general audiences that British cinema didn't have to wear a hoop skirt and a bustle to be good.

Because show business is just that--a business--any overnight cinematic sensation creates a slew of half-assed spin-offs and watered-down imitations. This explains why we've been watching Tarantino-esque films ever since Pulp Fiction went huge--and why The Blair Witch Project clones are due any second. And this trend offers one reasonable explanation for Aileen Ritchie's mediocre The Closer You Get, produced by The Full Monty's Uberto Pasolini. This featherweight comedy (with a social conscience, natch) details the all-too-precious exploits of five quirky Irish guys who also go to extremes--not to get paid but to get laid.

Horny, shy, daft and just plain tired of relying on the luck of the Irish, five pub regulars hatch a plan to place an ad in a Miami newspaper. Led by Kieran (Ian Hart)--a man who punctuates every sentence by adjusting his wanker--they hope their inflated promises will attract a bevy of hot-blooded all-American beauties to their tiny village--which is a little low on sun-kissed calendar girls. And, with a little coaxing, the town agrees to throw a party to celebrate the babes' anticipated arrival. It's not the guys' fault, really. They've been stranded by fate in County Donegal, in a place where the sheep see more action than the populace. The priest has never officiated at a wedding and the local girls have minds of their own.

The ad posted, the gents go about their preparations, and some of the film's most successful humor comes from their efforts, which range from push-ups to hair dye to sex manuals (one sorry lad is a virgin).

The women, some jaded by failed romance, some buoyed by common sense, simply watch and wait. Besides, when you live in a town this incestuous, any stranger's face is a friendly one. And who knows? Maybe American women really are dumb enough to fall for a goofy smile and an Irish accent.

The film's central notion--that contemporary men often overlook real-life quality women to chase media-derived centerfold fantasies--was explored with greater insight in the Ted Demme gem Beautiful Girls. William Ivory's script is such a paint-by-numbers affair that it conveys only a sad sense of what might have been. The potential for a savvy exploration of transcontinental stereotyping is hinted at in the film's opening scenes but never developed. Instead, we get roughly 90 minutes of occasionally entertaining blarney.

The Closer You Get (PG-13; 90 min.), directed by Aileen Ritchie, written by Herbie Wave and William Ivory, photographed by Robert Alazraki and starring Ian Hart and Sean McGinley, opens Friday at the Camera 3 in San Jose.

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From the March 9-15, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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