Hollywood may be crass when it comes to cloning success, but it's not alone. Take the British Isles, for instance, ever since the success of a certain working-class comedy about unemployed louts turned male strippers. It seems as if there's been a law put into effect that every comedy out of England or Ireland must now be some sort of attempt at the next Full Monty, from Among Giants to Waking Ned Devine. On the face of it, it shouldn't be that hard a formula to follow: small town, good-hearted losers with an elaborate scheme, classic oldies on the soundtrack, and so forth. Yet The Full Monty had a couple of things going for it that later films have found quite hard to duplicate, if indeed they tried at all: a subtext dealing with the alienation of the middle-class (long before American Beauty discovered such a novel concept) and a breakout performance by the phenomenally talented Robert Carlyle.
The latest entry in the "next Full Monty" sweepstakes is the Irish import The Closer You Get, from Monty producer Uberto Pasolini. The whimsy is in place, the oldies song ("The Sweetest Feeling") a classic gem, and there's even a solid lead actor in the form of Ian Hart (best known as John Lennon in Backbeat). But that's all there is. Gone is any trace of dramatic tension, or any sense of the drudgery of normal life. These characters enjoy the routine. Hart's character even insists that sitting around drinking pints and watching football on satellite TV forever would be a good life, and he does so without a trace of irony -- though he does admit that having a girlfriend would be even better.
It all begins in the tiny Donegal village of Kilvaney, a town so whimsically small, you have to take a boat with you during a scenic walk lest the tide come in and block your return route. This is strictly fantasy Ireland: No one drinks anything but Guinness, young bachelors pin up magazine Bananarama centerfolds on their walls, and the only movies anyone sees are Biblical epics shown at the local church (which, apparently, no one attends otherwise -- quite a stretch for a country so strongly Catholic). When an embarrassing print mix-up occurs and the church ends up showing the Bo Derek film 10 instead of The Ten Commandments, the young men of the town are driven into a mating frenzy. The problem is that none of the local women is of any interest to them.
Enter the local butcher, Kieran (Hart), with the obligatory harebrained scheme. In cooperation with all the other local single men, he drafts a personal ad to be placed in the Miami Herald seeking American women, age 20-21, for marriage. Oh, and they all actually believe this plan is going to work. And that's essentially all the plot there is. Perhaps you can see where this idea as a premise for a film is going to run into trouble: Unlike, say, an all-male burlesque show, a letter doesn't take much effort to send, which leaves cast dangling for almost the entire film; they pass the time mostly by drinking and dancing.
Since the high-concept letter scheme is so obviously futile, there's not much dramatic tension in that area. And since the boy-girl ratio in town is almost one to one, there's not much suspense as to how things will work out once the boys abandon their pipe dream. So what's left? The men act like fools, the women behave more rationally -- but of course. Laughs are wrung from an amusingly young and nervous priest. Gee, didn't Waking Ned Devine already go there? Hart is a good actor and is frequently funny, but neither his character nor any of the others has anything at stake other than their ludicrous fantasy, so it's hard to invest anything in them. It's too bad The Closer You Get is being released after Valentine's Day: As a date movie, it gently prods both sexes without being excessively offensive, or all that interesting.
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