A few of the same people who warmed to the time-tripping romance of “The Notebook” might be similarly enchanted by the decades-skipping schmaltz of “Closing the Ring.” But it’s highly unlikely this aggressively bittersweet yet oddly uninvolving drama about stunted lives, buried secrets and unrequited love will get much theatrical exposure after a brief spin on the global fest circuit. Aimed squarely at an older demographic, Richard Attenborough’s first directorial effort since 1999’s deservedly obscure “Grey Owl” will rely on homevid and cable to reach an aud of any size.
Tepid sudser begins in small-town Michigan, circa 1991, as just-widowed Ethel (an unusually, and off-puttingly, sour Shirley MacLaine) lays to rest a husband whose passing isn’t exactly causing her inconsolable grief. Marie (Neve Campbell), Ethel’s adult daughter, angrily accuses her mother of being a chronically cold fish and mom is too busy drinking to argue the point.
But the grumpy widow does register something resembling amusement when an old friend, Jack (Christopher Plummer), drops by for the funeral.
Meanwhile, over in Northern Ireland, an obsessed old fellow named Quinlan (Pete Postlethwaite) and a guileless young man named Jimmy (Martin McCann) spend their spare hours digging around the hillside site where, during WWII, a B-17 bomber crashed. Their activity displeases the local IRA chiefs, because the hillside is where the rebels dump their victims. But the excavators continue until they providentially unearth an inscribed ring Ethel long ago gave to her one true love.
Sluggishly alternating between eras and continents, “Closing the Ring” flashes back to the ’40s, when young Ethel (Mischa Barton) secretly married the dashing Teddy (Stephen Amell), before he shipped off to fight alongside buddies Jack (Gregory Smith) and Chuck (David Alpay) in the U.S. Army Air Force.
Before his plane’s fatal impact with Belfast’s Black Mountain, Teddy asks Chuck to take care of Ethel if he doesn’t make it back alive. Which Chuck does, leading to a loveless marriage. Unfortunately Jack — who never stops carrying a major torch for Ethel — is too doggone noble to ever make his true feelings known.
Scripter Peter Woodward ultimately sorts everything out. But it’s a long, hard slog to get to that point, and too much time along the way is devoted to angry recriminations and alcohol-fueled self-pity. (Plummer’s overplaying of a drunken scene is regrettably hilarious.) The overall mood of turgid melancholy is dispelled only occasionally by Brenda Fricker, who claims the pic’s acting honors with her feisty supporting turn as a grandmother who unashamedly recalls her randy ways during wartime.
Production values are sufficient for Attenborough to give “Closing the Ring” all the period flavor it needs. Trouble is, pic itself is too bland to score any meaningful degree of emotional impact.