By Alan Scherstuhl
By Amy Nicholson
By Charles Taylor
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Brian Feinzimer
By CAROLINA DEL BUSTO
By AMY NICHOLSON
By Amy Nicholson
. . . You can see 4-eva! That is, if you're with the program represented by the new virgin cocktail On a Clear Day and are suffering from a weakness for broguey sentimentality, three-pound-note triumphalism, middle-aged cuteness, and father-son bathos so softheaded you could press your thumb into it like a rotten peach. Once one's claptrap cherry is popped, however, turning back is futile, and so Gaby Dellal's cynically mushy film, like The Full Monty and its ilk, is best savored only by its target demo: middle-classers who see one imported film a year, the selection in question requiring working-stiff melodrama and leprechaun burrs gently and lovably mangling the English dialogue. If I were a Celtic filmhead, I'd be spitting.
The only asset On a Clear Day comes equipped to exploit is Peter Mullan as—and here's where I lose you—Frank, a disgruntled, laid-off Glasgow dad who decides in his miserable torpor to justify himself by swimming the English Channel. Will he make it?! Mullan is a muscular talent, with a voice like a tin shaker filled with whiskey and ground windshield, and a bodily presence that always seems poised on the brink of assault. More than that, Mullan's face and pinpoint eyes seem so predisposed toward defiant rage, even when he smiles, that he's a square peg in Dellal's feel-good-till-you-purr round hole. There are moments when the tension and gravitas Mullan churns up just by saying his lines topple the film's breezy, deliberately banal nature, and you wait for violence that never arrives.
A good tooth-splitting brannigan might've helped, particularly when Frank's grown son (Jamie Sives) grumbles about his bad relationship with his da, or grinning sidekick Danny (Billy Boyd, without a hobbit wig) apes around as comic relief, or Brenda Blethyn's ma fails another bus-driving test, or the film itself tries to firm up its own considerable slack by flashing back to the Inspirational Death of Frank's other son, drowned (!) years before. There are too many movies plagiarized here to count, but a Dead Poets Society lift is folded in, as Frank's cronies all take his determined example and win their own petty battles elsewhere (that includes a timid Asian takeout proprietor, played by Benedict Wong; the big yuk is that he speaks like he lives in Scotland). Dellal knows, as do we all, that when all else fails, aging men farting and baring their wrinkled asses makes tepid tear-jerking and rerun comedy the food of the gods.
Never mind that Dellal doesn't seem very sure that the Glasgow shoreline doesn't face France, leaving us to wonder most of the time in what part of the British Isles the financially strapped characters are loitering. When you're staring down the business end of menopause, logistics like geography—and rampaging cliché, and fast-pouring treacle—are small potatoes. You'd flog the obvious by accusing Dellal of whoring her homeland for a Hollywood shot. But for Mullan, who's demonstrated his ambition in the films he's written and directed, it's surely just an aging actor's payday, made necessary by the infrequency of Ken Loach's films and the fact that he's virtually the only Brit actor of his generation who hasn't been cast in a Harry Potter film.
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