Vivendi Visual Entertainment // 2005 // 90 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rankins (Retired) // March 14th, 2006
The luck of the Irish just ran out.
Irish I hadn't wasted 90 unrecoverable minutes of my life watching this movie.
The bucolic Irish hamlet of Ballywood is in hock up to its shamrocks to greedy English mogul Lord Hailstock (Kevin McNally, The Phantom of the Opera). The only chunk of property in town that Hailstock hasn't grabbed up is the local watering hole, a pub called Finnigan's. In an attempt to dig themselves out from under Hailstock's usury, the Ballywood folk take out an ad in a Los Angeles newspaper, announcing a poetry contest with a five-dollar entry fee and Finnigan's as the grand prize. With any luck, enough Americans will pitch a fin into the Finnigan's kitty to erase Ballywood's outstanding debt and enable the townspeople to reclaim their ancestral lands.
Meanwhile, in the City of Angels, perpetually broke hustler Jimmy "Da Jam" McDevitt (Eddie Griffin, Undercover Brother) sees the Ballywood poetry contest as his dream opportunity to escape the bustle and squalor of his big-city life, as well as the psychotic woman (Mo'Nique, Domino) who is desperate to marry him. Our hero cribs some overwrought lyrics from a rap CD as his contest entry, and before you can sing a chorus of "Sweet Molly Malone," Jimmy Da Jam has landed on Erin's verdant shore, the proud proprietor of his own Irish pub.
As he settles in among the skeptical Ballywoodians, Jimmy catches the eye of a comely young widow named Maureen (Anna Friel, Timeline). Maureen's daughter Kathleen (Tallulah Pitt-Brown) hasn't spoken a word since her father was killed by a drunken driver a few years earlier. Both mother and daughter take a liking to Jimmy, to the consternation of some of their less-enlightened neighbors. Not to mention the fact that Lord Hailstock soon plots to use Jimmy as a pawn in his grand scheme to leverage Ballywood into a Japanese-sponsored amusement park.
Can a black man avoid the blues among the white folk under the gray skies of the Emerald Isle? Or will he merely find himself in an Irish Jam?
The first thing that struck me as I watched Irish Jam was how essentially similar it is in concept to another film I reviewed recently, American Women. Both movies are set in small Irish coastal towns, and both involve the locals attempting to solve a community problem by placing an ad in a U.S. newspaper. The key difference between the two films is that in American Women, the issue of whether salvation will sail in from Stateside is left unresolved until the closing moments of the picture, whereas in Irish Jam, the American deus ex machina in the person of Eddie Griffin's character is introduced almost at the outset.
Unfortunately for me, both movies sucked swamp water like a black hole in an Irish peat bog. Of the two, Irish Jam sucked worse.
Let's begin with the star of the show. Eddie Griffin, as he proved in Undercover Brother, can be an entertaining comic lead, given a decent script and sure-handed direction that doesn't allow him to veer too far afield into his patented goofy shtick. He can even acquit himself well in a small supporting dramatic role, as he does in John Q. But left to his own devices to the degree that he appears to have been in Irish Jam, Griffin takes his propensity for hyperactive mugging so far over the comedic cliff that the entire film collapses around him.
For the majority of the movie, Griffin's Jimmy McDevitt doesn't just seem like a representative from another country, culture, and ethnicity among the denizens of rural Ireland -- he's practically an alien from another planet. Griffin is so outrageous and off-the-wall, devouring scenery as though it were the last meal of a condemned prisoner, that the Ballywoodians' relatively tame reaction to him -- not to mention Anna Friel's Maureen's almost immediate affection for him -- feels forced and uncomfortably false.
Speaking of Friel, she gives a delightful, understated performance here, despite the fact that her character isn't much more than a stock cardboard cutout (the young widowed mother who dumps the boring but stable local guy in favor of the undependable but exciting outsider), and the fact that there isn't even a glimmer of onscreen chemistry between her and Griffin. Indeed, most of the supporting players present themselves nicely, especially Dudley Sutton, who's a hoot as Maureen's eccentric father, and young Tallulah Pitt-Brown, who glows in her mostly wordless role as Maureen's traumatized little girl. It's too bad that Griffin plays his lead role against theirs as though he fell in from another film altogether.
It's also too bad that the hackneyed script by Max Myers and director John Eyres doesn't give anyone present anything interesting, original, or believable to do. (I did chuckle at one exchange between Griffin and Friel, in which she wonders aloud whether African American and Irish people share anything in common. He offers that he has seen The Commitments several times. The movie would have benefited from a ton more fresh, cleverly observed dialogue like this.) Every cliché that can conceivably be invoked about either the Irish (drunken, brawling simpletons) or African Americans (well-endowed, flashy-dressing, hip-hop-loving men; loud, overweight, shrewish women) gets trotted past the lens in Irish Jam, as though the writers figured no one in the audience had ever seen these stereotypes before.
Behind the camera, Eyres's schizophrenic approach sometimes works -- the pastoral sequences in and around Ballywood are attractively photographed, and most of the character interactions are set up well -- and sometimes doesn't -- the numerous hokey effects sequences involving Griffin are merely swipes from his other movies, and poorly executed swipes at that. Worst of all, the film drags mercilessly (it feels far longer than its 90-minute running time would suggest), mostly because there just aren't enough genuine laughs or genuine emotion to keep the viewer engaged and the story propelled.
Realizing that Irish Jam is nothing more than a direct-to-video turkey to be warmed over, Visual Entertainment serves up the bare minimum here. The picture is clear, bright, and reasonably natural in color and tone, but there's some confusion about the aspect ratio. The keep case and disc art both promise a widescreen presentation, but if the picture isn't actually full frame, I'm an Irish wolfhound. (The three-minute interview-and-clip feature with Eddie Griffin, on the other hand, appears to be 1.78:1 or thereabouts.)
The audio quality is acceptable, in a 2.0 stereo track that gets the dialogue and music across without fanfare. The music that plays over the menus, however, is dialed up to half again the volume of the feature itself, resulting in ear-shock when transitioning from one to the other in mid-course. Warning: There aren't any subtitles to help American viewers decipher the actors' sometimes incomprehensible Gaelic brogues. Unforgivable.
Aside from the aforementioned interview segment, which showcases a bored-looking Griffin with little to say other than that he likes Irish people and had fun making this movie, the disc includes only the film's trailer and bonus previews for four other Visual Entertainment releases you've never heard of before.
The scenes that feature the comedienne (and I use that word loosely) Mo'Nique deserve to get someone smacked alongside the head with a shillelagh. That anyone thought this aggressively grotesque caricature would be humorous is an example of the kind of misguided thinking that results in films like Irish Jam.
When the opening credits of a film list almost as many "executive producers" as there are cast members, you know you're watching a tax shelter, not an example of cinematic art. Even St. Patrick himself wouldn't enjoy the taste of this Irish Jam.
The Court finds everyone responsible for this film guilty, and not in a "guilty pleasure" sort of way. Erin go blah.
Review content copyright © 2006 Michael Rankins; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Interview with Actor Eddie Griffin
* Theatrical Trailer
* Bonus Trailers