Pic unfolds in 1989-90, when unemployment was rife in the Barrytown area (as it was in much of Ireland).

Pic unfolds in 1989-90, when unemployment was rife in the Barrytown area (as it was in much of Ireland).

Larry (Colm Meaney) has become used to being on welfare, but still gets upset when his son reminds him that their evening meal is paid for by the state. Larry’s best friend Bimbo (Donal O’Kelly) has, until now, held down a job in a bakery, but is devastated when he too is laid off.

For a while, the two friends waste away the long days together, mostly drinking in their favorite bar, though Larry does attempt to teach Bimbo the game of golf.

But the discovery of a filthy, abandoned fast-food van in a back yard spurs Bimbo to a bold idea: If he and Larry can refurbish the van, they can cook fish and chips, hamburgers and other delights for sporting crowds.

The timing is right, because Ireland is in the finals of the World Cup soccer competition. The fact that the van lacks an engine is no deterrent.

Members of the families pitch in and, after much effort, the grease-stained vehicle is more or less clean.

The lads overcome a few minor setbacks and eventually open for business, which is soon brisk.

At last they’re making money, enough to buy an engine for the van and even pay a visit to an expensive nightclub, where they attempt to pick up a couple of bored schoolteachers.

But despite their success, the relationship between the friends becomes more strained, and a visit from a horrified health inspector proves a turning point in their partnership.

There are plenty of amusing moments in “The Van,” but overall the film lacks the cohesion and economy of “The Snapper.”

For a while, the outrageous disregard for hygiene displayed by Larry and Bimbo during their food preparation is funny: In one scene, Larry’s daughter has to interrupt the cooking of hamburgers to attend to her baby, and somehow a diaper (fortunately unused) winds up in a fish sandwich; but ultimately the jokes remain anecdotal and don’t build into a satisfying narrative.

Meaney and O’Kelly give robust, larger-than-life performances, but they have an unfortunate tendency to shout at one another.

A fine gallery of actors fill in the marginal roles, with Ger Ryan outstanding as Larry’s very understanding and accommodating wife.

Production values are fine, though the score by Eric Clapton and Richard Hartley is overly strident at times.

The Van

Production

The Van (British -- comedy-drama) A Fox Searchlight release of a BBC Films presentation of a Deadly Films production. (International sales: The Sales Co., London.) Executive producer, Mark Shivas. Produced by Lynda Myles. Co-producer, Roddy Doyle. Directed by Stephen Frears. Written by Roddy Doyle, based on his novel.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor), Oliver Stapleton; editor, Mick Audsley; music, Eric Clapton, Richard Hartley; production design, Mark Geraghty; art director, Fiona Daly; costumes, Consolata Boyle; sound (Dolby), Brendan Deasy; casting, Leo Davis; assistant director, Martin O'Malley. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 11, 1996. Running time: 105 min.

With

Larry ... Colm Meaney Bimbo ... Donal O'Kelly Maggie ... Ger Ryan Mary ... Caroline Rothwell Diane ... Neili Conroy Kevin ... Ruaidhri Conroy Weslie ... Brendan O'Carroll Sam ... Stuart Dunne The Van" is the third film set in the now familiar suburbs of North Dublin , as seen from the perspective of author Roddy Doyle; director Stephen Frears is very much at home with this kind of material, having already done a fine job with "The Snapper," which was part two in the trilogy (part one was Alan Parker's "The Commitments"). Unfortunately, the new film turns out to be a minor affair that tries hard but fails to recapture the wild humor of the earlier outings. It's essentially a very small story expanded to feature length and, despite some fine performances and a few charming scenes, feels flabby and overextended. Fox Searchlight will also have to address the problem of some pretty thick Irish accents.
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