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Weekly Alibi Waking Ned Devine

By Devin D. O'Leary

JANUARY 19, 1999:  If you want to see the crass Hollywood version of sentiment, then go see Patch Adams. If you want to see the real deal, though, pack your bags for Ireland and buy a ticket to Waking Ned Devine.

The love child of freshman writer/director Kirk Jones, Waking Ned Devine is a humble, happy-go-lucky and utterly charming modern fairy tale. By dumping the prefab pathos and movie star manipulating that America's movie studios love to wallow in (so what Oscar-nominated actress is dying of cancer this week?), Jones creates a genuinely touching and sincerely funny fable about fortunes, friendships and fakery.

Jackie O'Shea (Ian Bannen) and Michael O'Sullivan (David Kelly) are a couple mischievous pensioners with one shared obsession--winning the national lottery. Having been born and bred in the tiny town of Tully More, Jackie and Michael are lifelong friends with a schoolboy talent for getting into trouble. When the duo discovers that someone in their rural village has actually won the lottery, they set out to uncover the lucky sod and "become his best friend." How hard can the task be? There are only 52 people in the entire town of Tully More. After investing several bottles of whiskey and eighteen chicken dinners in an effort to smoke out their newly wealthy neighbor, though, Jackie and Michael have gotten little more than drunk and stuffed.

Eventually, our tenacious gold diggers realize that their much beloved neighbor, good old Ned Devine, is missing. Turns out that Mr. Devine was the lucky sod with the winning lottery ticket. Unfortunately, the shock of winning such a big prize gave the poor fellow a fatal heart attack. With no living relatives, Ned's prize money will have to go unclaimed. A tragedy, that. Inspired by a portentous dream, though, Jackie decides it's his duty to masquerade as Ned Devine in order to claim the prize money. Eventually, every nutty member of the Tully More community is involved in a frantic plot to deceive a visiting lottery official in hopes of sharing in the massive jackpot.

Apparently, Mr. Jones had difficulty getting this film made--a fact that makes its current praise all the sweeter. If he'd cast two handsome young actors in the lead roles, Jones admits, the film could have gotten financed right away. Fortunately, the filmmaker stuck to his guns. Senior stars Bannen and Kelly add much to the charm of this film. Bannen's Jackie O'Shea is a brash optimist, full of dreams and get-rich-quick schemes. Kelly's Michael O'Sullivan is the more reserved sidekick, constantly scared and doubtful, but always there to do the dirty work. Instead of casting his film with pretty Hollywood faces, Jones went for an entire ensemble of wrinkled and decidedly real faces. This isn't some touristy portrait of the Emerald Isle. This is the real thing--naked, motorcycle-riding codgers and all.

Fans of director Bill Forsyth's 1983 hit Local Hero will certainly find a worthy successor in this more energetic, less surreal, but equally endearing comedy about small-town European life. Like Local Hero, Waking Ned Devine is packed with colorful characters, a warmly human story and some sparkling little moments of humor. Whereas recent Hollywood films have labored long and hard to jerk the tears from our eyes and coax a laugh or two from our throats, Waking Ned Devine earns such tributes effortlessly.

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