An entire village of eccentrics conspires to charm a gullible outsider. The burg's financial future is at stake. Picture-postcard views of rural countryside and coastal vistas are plentiful. So are loads of Old World charm, lilting language and evocative music.
"Waking Ned Devine," an Irish comedy that's gentle and a little rude, isn't a spanking new concept. The Scottish gem "Local Hero" visited similar territory to charming effect in 1983, as did 1995's "The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill, but Came Down a Mountain," an overly cutesy Hugh Grant vehicle set in Wales.
This year's model, the feature debut of former commercial director Kirk Jones, benefits from the undeniable chemistry of its geezer heroes, played by the immensely likable Ian Bannen (nominated for an Oscar for 1965's "The Flight of the Phoenix" and seen as a leper in 1995's "Braveheart") and David Kelly.
Jackie O'Shea (Bannen) and Michael O'Sullivan (Kelly), lifelong pals who share pints at the pub and skinny-dipping at the seashore, embark on a late-in-life mission when they discover that someone in their town has hit the jackpot in the national lottery. The pair ply several likely suspects with alcohol, including the smelly bachelor pork farmer Pig Finn (James Nesbitt), but the identity of the fortunate winner remains a secret.
Jackie and Michael finally arrange a dinner for the lottery-playing regulars. The no-show turns out to be Ned Devine, who has a good excuse: The loner died from the shock of scoring nearly 7 million pounds. "He survived all the storms only to be swept away by a few lottery balls," Michael says of the deceased, discovered with the ticket still clasped between his fingers.
Jackie sets in motion a scheme to claim the winnings and split the cash among the townspeople. Its success depends on the ability of Michael, a guy who has heretofore been honest to a fault, to masquerade as Devine. Jim Kelly (Brendan F. Dempsey), the genial national lottery man, must be fooled long enough to issue the check.
Jones successfully juggles the main conflict with several subplots, including Pig's efforts to court the beautiful Maggie Tooley (Susan Lynch), who likes everything about the guy except his smell; a mystery about the fatherhood of Maggie's son; and the efforts of token town "witch" Lizzy Quinn (Eileen Dromey) to derail her neighbors' quest for the winnings.
"Waking Ned Devine," carefully paced and packed with first-rate performances and funny dialogue, also tosses in several surprises, including slapstick with a corpse and an old man's nude motorcycle ride through town. It's every bit a delight.
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