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[whitespace] Waking Ned Devine
Bottle Up and Go: David Kelly (left) and Ian Bannen toast their town's good fortune in Kirk Jones' new film, 'Waking Ned Devine.'

In 'Waking Ned Devine,' small-town Irish shenanigans lead to a donnybrook

By Richard von Busack

THOSE OVER 55 may make up the core audience for Waking Ned Devine, a pleasant but bland trifle. This Irish import celebrates that great contributor to the production of films in England and Ireland these days--namely, the national lottery.

The one-pub Irish village of Tully More has, among its 50-odd occupants, the winner of a large lottery ticket. After some sleuthing, Jackie O'Shea (Ian Bannen) discovers that the winning ticket belongs to one Ned Devine, who died of excitement after hearing the winning number read on television. The citizens of Tully More--except for one mean lady (Eileen Dromey)--decide on an imposture. Michael O'Sullivan (David Kelly) agrees to pose as the dead Devine while a government official snoops around checking against the possibility of fraud.

Director/writer Kirk Jones pads the story with Irish seascapes--shot off the coast of the Isle of Man--and farce of the stolen-clothes variety.

Fionnula Flanagan, playing Annie, Jackie's wife, is still a performer with great magnetism. Flanagan's performance in James Joyce's Women, which I saw more than 10 years ago, is a lot fresher in my memory than all of Waking Ned Devine, seen a couple of weeks ago. Ditto for Bannen's 1987 role as the irascible granddad in Hope and Glory, a movie that demands rereleasing during this cinematic season full of so many memories of World War II.

In a film of such superlative fluffiness, Susan Lynch makes a strong impression. Lynch played the Selkie (a were-seal) in The Secret of Roan Inish. Here, she plays Maggie, who loves a pig keeper named Pig Finn (James Nesbitt) but can't stand his smell. Lynch is one intense performer, a dictionary example of what's meant by the term "black Irish." (Richard Nixon always claimed that it was the black Irish in him that accounted for his moods.) Cast by nature for Sophoclean tragedy, Lynch accidentally cranks up her character's volume from feisty to cutthroat.

Director Kirk Jones doesn't cheat--he doesn't give us a realistic ending to betray the fantasy beforehand. But his direction is uninspired. One prosaically staged shot of Maggie and Pig Finn having an argument on opposite sides of a stream sums up the film. Jones doesn't make the countryside enchanting, as Bill Forsyth did in his story of wealth flooding a small coastal Scottish town, Local Hero.

As a Christmas family film, Waking Ned Devine will provoke few arguments, but anyone who loves Neil Jordan and Roddy Doyle will find it as clean as a bar of Irish Spring and as spiceless as a glass of warm Irish milk.

Waking Ned Devine (PG; 91 min.), directed and written by Kirk Jones, photographed by Henry Braham and starring Ian Bannen and Fionnula Flanagan, opens Friday at Camera 3 and the Towne in San Jose and at the Palo Alto Square.

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From the December 24-30, 1998 issue of Metro.

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