There is a slight, gentle romance at the core of “Knuckleball,” a sort of (uncredited) redo of “The Quiet Man,” but it is buried under broad and not terribly funny slapstick and ethnic stereotyping. In the end, the film squanders what goodwill this handsome, low-budget production might have otherwise earned, leaving it in a commercial bog.
Owen Roe is in the John Wayne role, with the character cleverly changed from boxer to pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. He beaned a player with his knuckleball , putting him into a coma, and arrives in Ireland under an assumed name, trying to escape the attendant publicity.
There he meets Heather O’Neil (Caroleen Feeney), a strong-willed woman who is trying to duck the attentions of Parker Danagher (Stanley Townsend), the pompous local solicitor. All three performers are up to snuff, and as long as the film focuses on them, it stands a chance.
Unfortunately, a subplot is imposed about two New Jersey hoods (Paul Tylak, Joe Rooney) sent to collect what turns out to be a trivial debt. The two actors are encouraged to overact and mug to a shameless degree, destroying the romance established elsewhere. When they are joined by Mikel Murfi in a variety of roles — each a painfully unfunny Irish stereotype — the pic is dead in the water.
Helmer John MacNeil (who co-wrote with Kevin Stevens) is good at personal scenes, and he even introduces a nice touch of magical realism, as a young girl keeps appearing to encourage Roe to follow his heart. It’s in the broad comedy that the film grinds to a halt, including several pub scenes with the town drunkards.
Tech credits are modest, with cinematographer John Donnelly getting the most out of his Irish village locations (pic was shot in Lisdoonvarna in County Clare), but unable to make a few extras seem like a crowd when the “whole town” turns out for something.