Wild About Harry

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

WILD ABOUT HARRY

4/10

Ireland 2001
director : Declan Lowney
script : Colin Bateman
cinematography : Ron Fortunato
editing : Tim Waddell
lead actors : Brendan Gleeson, Amanda Donohoe, Adrian Dunbar, James Nesbitt
90 minutes

Since his 1997 breakthrough in I Went Down and The General, Brendan Gleeson has popped up in projects as varied as Mission: Impossible 2, Lake Placid and The Tailor of Panama. Not a bad niche, and certainly a profitable one, but Gleeson, who’s younger than Nick Nolte, deserves better. On paper, Wild About Harry seems ideal: the title character is a boozy, ebullient, slobbish TV chef who, after to a head injury, thinks he’s 18 again. The killer phrase, howver, is ‘on paper’ – scriptwriter Bateman may be one of Ireland’s best-selling novelists, but he doesn’t seem to realise that movies are a completely different ball-game from fiction. The result is that, while Harry has some promising elements, they never come together – the ingredients instead curdle into an unappetising, indigestible mess.

Just as the soundtrack clumsily alternates between jaunty ‘funny’ music and soppily serious strings, the main problem is tone. The basic storyline has plenty of comic-dramatic potential, even if it’s essentially a standard second-chance fantasy: Harry isn’t aware he’s married to Ruth (Donohoe), let alone the fact he’s driven her to the divorce court with his philandering, and gets the opportunity to change his ways and start all over again.

But Bateman keeps veering into distracting subplots, following the increasingly unhinged antics of a politican (Nesbitt) whose marriage and career were ruined by Harry during a live broadcast of his cookery programme. The politician’s plans for revenge culminate in an absurd studio confrontation which sees Bateman swerve, even less convincingly, into the broadest kind of media satire, with Harry’s producer (Cheers star George Wendt) seizing the opportunity to boost his show’s ratings.

Gleeson does his best with the uneven material, and he deserves full marks for keeping things so mercifully unsentimental – one shudders to think what, say, Robin Williams, might make of a similar character. But the ’18 again’ stuff never rises above the level of script-contrivance gimmickry – there’s an early aside about Ulster that indicates both Harry and Bateman are aware of the area’s political issues, so it’s bizarre that Harry’s bewilderment with Belfast 2000 feature zero comment on the Troubles’ progress over the ‘missing’ 25 years. If there were enough laughs in Wild About Harry, this mightn’t have been a problem. But there aren’t, so it is.

19th June, 2001

by Neil Young
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