Rated PG - Running time: 1:31 - Released 11/20/98

I can't figure it out. Are the films coming to us out of the British Isles really that good, or is it just that their different style is refreshing to us? I don't know, maybe it's just those darling accents. But I loved The Full Monty, I loved The Boxer, and I love Waking Ned Devine. We Yanks, who have such a need for action/adventure and fabulously attractive, young leading actors, need an occasional diversion, and this is it. Much congratulation must go to 34-year-old Kirk Jones in his writing and directing debut — a beautifully produced, heartwarming film about a townful of senior citizens who conspire to claim the lottery money won by their deceased neighbor.

Ned Devine, one of the 52 residents of the small village of Tullymore, Ireland, was an avid player of the lottery. He was one of many in town who tuned in to the TV every day to watch the balls drop and the numbers appear. And one day it happened: He won the jackpot. But the excitement was a little too much for his old heart. The final sight he would see on this Earth were those brightly colored balls, their numbers exactly matching the ones printed on the slip of paper in his hand.

Jackie O'Shea (Ian Bannen), a friend of Ned's, finds out that a Tullymore local won the lotto, and sets out to determine who it was. When he finds Ned's body (played motionlessly by Jimmy Keogh), he is presented with a dual crisis: Why would the Lord play such a cruel trick on poor old Ned, and — uh — what will happen to the money? He tells his wife Annie (Fionnula Flanagan) and their friend, Michael O'Sullivan (David Kelly). After some moral wrangling and a highly symbolic dream, Jackie is convinced: Ned would have wanted his friends to share his riches. Heck, he probably would have split it with them anyway! So, with hilarious rationalizations right out of Steinbeck, they all agree on a plot to deceive the Dublin lottery and do right by their dead friend.

This film is a great study of human nature by writer/director Jones. Like The Full Monty, it pokes fun at the things we will do for cash, but it has a tender side too. An ingenious device early in the film introduces us to many characters as Jackie, Annie, and Michael try to determine who the winner is, bribing all their friends with everything from meat pies to fruity soaps. Later on, the funeral scene, where Jackie's eulogy for Ned is interrupted by the lotto man ready to write a big check, is exquisitely touching and humorous at the same time.

There is some nudity (we are treated to the naked physiques of a couple of 70-year-old men), and panoramic vistas of the green, Irish countryside. Also present is a nice sountrack of Irish folk music and drinking songs, complemented by the original music of Shaun Davey. There's plenty of enjoyment to be found here, whether it be the humor, the honest performances, or just the sheer beauty. And I have to admit, it put me in the mood for a pint. ****½

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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