When the Irish comic romance Hear My Song premiered a couple of months back, its distributor touted it as an unsung Oscar contender. This is blarney.
Hear My Song has the deft and somewhat daft touch of Scotland's Bill Forsyth (Local Hero), but it better serves as a promotional film for the Irish Tourist Board than a wry romantic comedy of manners.
All those emerald green panoramas, glistening seasides and imposing Atlantic cliffs make for impressive viewing. But they do little to further this wryly funny, slice-of-life tale about a failed Liverpool impressario (Adrian Dunbar) coaxing a tax-evading Irish tenor back to England after 25 years in hiding.
Ned Beatty plays the real-life Josef Locke who dodged Her Majesty's revenuers by disappearing to his native Ireland a quarter-century ago.
Beatty, the chubby American over-actor who is best suited for capers and Burt Reynolds sagas, makes a surprisingly embraceable Locke. Toned down a few notches to play the hermitic scofflaw, he has a definite rogue appeal .
. until he opens his mouth and a pitch-perfect pre-recorded tenor lofts from his throat.
Somewhere in Ireland is a portly operatic tenor without a job who possesses the perfect accent, temperment and voice to play Locke. But first-time director Peter Chelsom, who wrote Hear My Song with lead-actor Dunbar, went the commercial route and tapped Beatty for his middling star appeal.
The choice isn't fatal. Beatty, short of his singing, is wholly engaging. But the selection is strictly entrepreneurial, much like the stunning Irish vistas as Micky O'Neill (Dunbar) searches the countryside for his fugitive crooner.
Micky is the borderline-shady manager of a Liverpool club catering to the area's Irish implants. He specializes in bait-and-switch performers, like Franc Cinatra, whose eyes may be blue but whose voice is anything but golden.
Micky books a mysterious Mr. X (William Hootkins), who Micky truly believes is the real Josef Locke.
The man is a fraud. More seriously, he accosts Micky's fiance's mom (Shirley-Anne Field) after learning she had a fiery affair with Locke just before he fled England in 1958.
Micky realizes that finding the real Locke and coaxing a Liverpool performance from him is the only way to salvage his marriage to Nancy (Tara Fitzgerald) and regain his self-respect in the community. Micky hops the first freighter heading for Dublin and begins his seemingly impossible quest.
Hear My Song is sprinkled with fairy dust. It's an enjoyable romantic fantasy with wonderful comic bits, like Micky testing a well's depth by tossing in a log _ neglecting to note the timber is chained to a cow.
Dunbar sparkles, as does Beatty, the corpulent imposter Hootkins and the ravishing Field. There's even a welcome cameo by David McCallum as the dour police commissioner intent on collaring Locke.
But their considerable contributions are subverted by a meandering story line and by director Chesholm's similarly rambling sense of pacing.
Don't buy the hype. Hear My Song is fun. But it's nowhere near Oscar caliber.
Hear My Song
Director: Peter Chelsom
Cast: Adrian Dunbar, Ned Beatty, Shirley-Anne Field, Tara Fitzgerald, William Hootkins, Harold Berens, David McCallum
Screenplay: Peter Chelsom & Adrian Dunbar
Rating: R; violence, profanity, brief nudity, sexual situations
Running time: 104 minutes