Rating: C+/ Although not entirely without it’s merits, Waking Ned Devine is a mostly silly and unsubstantial Irish comedy with few real laughs. It doesn’t help that the main character, Jackie O’Shea (Ian Bannen,) is startlingly unlikable. The lightness and fluffiness of the movie juxtaposes poorly with Jackie’s all-encompassing selfishness and nastiness, redeemed (?) at the end by a dime-store revelation that doesn’t seem very genuine.
In a quaint little Irish village where everyone knows everyone, Jackie O’Shea and his friend Michael O’Sullivan (David Kelly) are two old fogies who dream of winning the lottery. When it appears that someone in the village has won a bucketload of money, Jackie and his wife Annie (Fionnula Flanagan) invites the whole village over for a succulent chicken dinner hoping to soften them up and receive some of their fortune.
As it turns out, the winner of the lottery is Ned Devine (Jimmy Koegh), who was so happy to get his money that he died of a shock-induced heart attack. In typical screwball fashion, Jackie hatches a plan with Michael’s blessing to impersonate Ned Devine, with lots of comical complications. Jackie has no problem with leaving poor Ned in his cold little cottage to fester and conveniently fail to tell any of the locals about Ned’s death. He justifies this with a dream he had about Ned he believes meant Ned wanted him to have the money.
A subplot involves a cute eligible village girl named Maggie (Susan Lynch) who is the object of lowly pig farmer Pig Finn (James Nesbitt)’s affections. But do you know what? Maggie is so damn fickle that it’s hard to invest in the romance. She waffles around her feelings for Pig and holds out for a richer and more successful man for most of the movie until love predictably wins out at the conclusion. They justify this by explaining that she has her son (Paddy Ward)’s future to think about, but having a poor father that his mother truly loves and cares about is surely better for a young boy than the jerk she picks out. It doesn’t help that the characters are drawn thinly and mostly fairly uninteresting and unlikable, and the laughs are scarce. This is a movie you could say was cute, but not much more.
The one thing I did like about this movie is Michael, played by David Kelly. Even though he’s in cahoots with the unscrupulous Jackie, he’s strangely likable and Kelly gives an expressive and downright lovable performance, making the audience feel all warm and fuzzy with his emotional reaction during an actually kind of corny speech by Jackie about what a good friend he is. I know Kelly as the guy guarding the Wall in Stardust who beat the crap out of Tristan Thorn, and I can see his merits even though I wasn’t even familiar with him til after his death. He’s got real screen presence, and while none of the actors are exactly bad, they’re saddled with a somewhat mediocre script that reduces them to little more than caricatures.
The actors are uniformly competent, the scenery of a small coastal Irish village is beautiful but ultimately this comedy falls a little flat. The mean-spiritedness of the characters could easily work within the script if the movie itself was a little darker, but Waking Ned Devine serves as a forgettable little piece of fluff- with a bite. It speaks ill of this film that by the end I didn’t want any of the villagers to get a damned penny of the fortune, pretty accents or not. I was actually rooting for the nasty, scooter bound town ‘witch’ to screw everybody out of the money. And that, my friends, is saying something.