Stateside interest in all things Irish (the McCourt brothers’ memoirs, National Book Award winner “Charming Billy,” the Fox Searchlight hit “Waking Ned Devine,” even the much-mocked “Riverdance”) ensures audience turnout for “Durango,” though everything about this telepic screams “Irish Lite.” The Hallmark Hall of Fame’s 201st production, about an unlikely cattle drive across the Irish countryside in the days before World War II, is dramatically inert and cheerfully droll without ever being actually funny, and offers little beyond lushly gorgeous scenic vistas. For some, that may be enough.
From its opening moments, “Durango,” directed by Brent Shields from a script by Walter Bernstein (based on John B. Keane’s novel), serves up a bountiful smorgasbord of Irish cliches. Within three minutes, a pair of Irish lads are duking it out to resolve some argument. Four minutes later, two men are ordering pints of ale and after 12 minutes, an Irish matron is invoking “The Holy Father” and the power of prayer.
The main story doesn’t offer much in the way of imaginative invention, either. Seems a small county is in thrall to an unsavory local merchant when it comes to selling off their cattle, so Mark (Matt Keeslar), a strapping young fellow, suggests the townsfolk take their product 40 miles to the next hamlet, sell off the heifers and enjoy a heftier profit.
Mark enlists a group of assorted colorful types — including his Aunt Maeve, played by Oscar winner Brenda Fricker and Tony winner George Hearn as two of the heartiest eccentric souls — to accompany him and watch over the herd on the trek.
Along the way, they encounter a handful of not-terribly-compelling obstacles — a bog, some dogs, hapless ruffians who set a fire in their path, the bully of the town of their destination. Said roadblocks are surmounted with little sense of drama.
There’s also a romantic subplot involving Keeslar and the one other pinup-pretty character in town, Annie Mullaney (Nancy St. Alban), who grows impatient with Mark’s reticence to ask her father for her hand in marriage.
She tells him things like, “Well, I’m not a cow, Mark Doran, and ye better start thinkin’ on that.” It, too, is resolved by rote.
Performances are adequate, with Irish accents ranging from authentic to that of the Lucky Charms leprechaun variety. Mark McKenzie’s score is a veritable cornucopia of sprightly Irish jig cliches.
Other tech credits, however, are impeccable, particularly Shelly Johnson’s vivid lensing of the countryside.