Waking Ned (1998)

D: Kirk Jones
S: Ian Bannen, David Kelly

Worthless comedy shot in the Isle of Man but set in Ireland which attempts to capture the feel of Ealing films from forty years ago, but fails miserably to achieve their tone, pace and humour. This film is transparently desperate in its appeal to sentimentality and it is offensive in assuming that the sight of Ian Bannen and David Kelly romping naked on a motorbike along the roads of an ersatz Ireland is actually funny. Its makers seem to presume that audiences will allow any amount of bad dialogue, poor plotting and mawkish drivel to pass for entertainment in the name of 'old fashioned' comedy, and that playing the Irish card will excuse the absence of any kind of intelligence.

The plot has promise: a small Irish village conspires to defraud the National Lottery when one of their number dies upon finding he has won a £7 million jackpot: but the plotting is appalling, the pace is dead slow and the central gag (which is well known from trailers and advertising) is not revealed until far too many utterly uninteresting sub-plots have been set in motion. One concerns the laughably simplistic courtship between a single mother and a pig farmer. She rejects him, believe it or not, because he smells bad (realistic and authentic characterisation...). Another bizarrely follows the conversations between a substitute priest and a small boy which don't really have anything to do with anything. They certainly do not advance the plot and neither character is significant in terms of the film's final punchline. The main plot then trundles along on a very expositional level, and little genuine comedy arises out of what would seem a ripe situation. Nothing very much actually happens other than what is evident from the outset, and the film fails to generate interesting, let alone funny, situations arising from its central conceit.

Writer/director Kirk Jones (whose experience to date has been in commercials) has been completely unable to get past what was obviously the financial pitch for the project. The script does not deliver even the most basic level of storytelling upon which to build larger themes, and Jones then directs with all seriousness scenes which would seem out of place in amateur theatre in terms of their psychological sophistication. Everything takes much too long to transpire, and the heavy-handed set ups for big comic scenes rob the scenes themselves of any pleasure when they finally occur. Not that there was much to laugh at anyway. As mentioned earlier, many of the laughs centre on the nudeness of old men, which is humiliating to Ian Bannen and David Kelly and insulting to the people Jones assumes would find it funny. The film's final big slapstick scene involves the comic-book death of another elderly person, and most of what falls in between depends on the acting ability of its experienced leads to even appear amusing despite the evident contempt in which it holds their characters.

Waking Ned is among the worst films ever made on or about Ireland and the Irish (comparable with Gold in the Streets), and is simply a dreadful piece of film writing and direction even apart from any considerations of what it suggests about Ireland. This is the kind of crud which slips through the production net thanks to some backstage packaging and manages to find a gullible audience by virtue of marketing: in short it represents all that is worst about cinema. Sponsored by the Isle of Man Film Commission and by French Television, this reeks of a tax write off cashing in on a wave of interest in 'Irish' films. It would have been set in Germany if the money had come from there, or in the Outer Hebrides of that was the flavour of the month at whatever film festival pub this rubbish was dreamt up at. Its cynical contempt for the people who pay to see it is evident in its absolute falsity, and it is baffling that it has received sympathetic reviews on its U.S. release (where it was called Waking Ned Devine). Perhaps this is the final terrible irony: its makers are probably laughing all the way to the bank, which is more than the audience can do. This is boring, unfunny garbage, and it knows you're a fool for watching it. It is insulting, offensive and completely without the kind of heart which made Ealing films so enduring. Avoid it.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1999.