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Little Criminals

The Irish import 'Intermission' is crusty yet mushy

By Richard von Busack

IT WAS the perfect St. Patrick's Day entertainment, in that Intermission portrays the Emerald Isle in its aspect as "the old sow that eats its farrow [piglets]." As such, director John Crowley's comedy/drama is a contrast to the grinning Leprechaun-face that Yankee beer barons try to graft onto the bloody rawness of Ireland's history--all in hopes of inspiring what will be the drinkiest day of the year. However, the day's come and gone. What's left is a modestly realized tag-teamer, with plenty O'Guinness product placements. Soft as a lamb's inner ear at the end, this film still could be epigraphed by Michael O'Donoghue's scurrilous joke about St. Paddy: Why did the snakes leave Ireland? Why would they stay?

In a bad part of Dublin, a circle of acquaintances deals with life. Speaking of Yanks, American culture seems to have just whipped through the city like an opportunistic infection. Policeman Jerry Lynch (Colm Meaney) has seen one too many episode of Cops and fancies himself as a Catholic avenger against not just against the ordinary smash-and-grab thieves in the neighborhood but against evil itself. ("Hate your opponent, and you'll never give less than 100 percent.")

Two young men--Oscar (David Wilmot) and John (Cillian Murphy)--work a pair of nowhere jobs at the Megamart. They're under the direction of a nit-picking manager (Owen Roe) who can't stop using American slang ("as they say in the USA" is his favorite expression.) And as if he were an actual American executive, a local bank manager (Michael McElhatton) has dropped his wife in favor of a girl, Deirdre, half her age. The surpassingly pretty Kelly Macdonald plays Deirdre, formerly John's lover.

If I had a talking computer, I'd want it to have Shirley Henderson's sibilant, purring voice. Henderson (Topsy-Turvy and elsewhere) plays it plain as Deirdre's sister. Her Sally is a girl in recovery from a horrible romantic incident that keeps her presenting a hard face to the world--a face with a "ronny" (a girl mustache) peering out of the monk's hood on her parka.

Screenwriter Mark O'Rowe seems to think what happened to Sally is kind of a joke. And the entire movie is similarly uncertain of its tone. The film stars with a wicked piece of social realism, a girl getting her nose busted by a thief, played by Colin Farrell. By the finale, matters have softened into "damned if it isn't some happy Irish antics" in a pub. The people are bitter. The locations are some real dumps: the skeleton of a burned car juxtaposed against the ruins of a huge brick mansion, parked in the driveway, as it were. And the dialogue certainly rises to the occasion: when the sexually frustrated Oscar sneaks into an old-folks bar in hopes of meeting desperate older women, he's found out: "Fancy a bit o' mature, hah, you dorty bastard?" But with its car chase, its CGI bus launch (a la Speed) and its ever-so-pat(rick) ending, the film was plainly made with one unblinking eye on the export market. For which you don't blame 'em, but you can't praise 'em.

Intermission (R; 105 min.), directed by John Crowley, written by Mark O'Rowe, photographed by Ryszard Lenczewski and starring Colm Meaney and Kelly Macdonald, opens Friday at selected theaters.

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From the March 24-31, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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