Excess melodrama only encroached on writer-director Jan Dunn's intriguing Dogma 95 debut feature "Gypo" (2006) at the very end.

Excess melodrama only encroached on writer-director Jan Dunn’s intriguing Dogma 95 debut feature “Gypo” (2006) at the very end. But sophomore effort “Ruby Blue” sinks all too soon into heavy-handed, moralizing contrivance. Bob Hoskins’ solid turn as a widower suspected of pederasty should lend minor traction to U.K. theatrical launch in April, but elsewhere, pic looks unlikely to attract the critical support that would justify arthouse rather than small-screen sales.

Retreating into boozy hermitage after his wife’s death, Kent retiree Jack (Hoskins) wants no one’s company, even neglecting his dog and racing pigeons. He’s initially resistant to intrusions from two new neighbors: middle-aged Stephanie (Josiane Balasko), who enthusiastically thrusts her gourmet French cooking onto the second-time bachelor; and pigtailed, redheaded Florrie (Jessica Stewart), a Pollyanna-ish 9-year-old whose harried mother (Shannon Tomkinson) starts regularly dropping the child on his doorstep for last-minute babysits.

Jack protests he knows nothing about kiddies — but of course, he proves a natural. Awakening from a misanthropic slumber, he even makes fast work of redeeming bad-boy teen Ian (Jody Latham) — elder bro to Florrie’s new playmate, Rosie (Angelica O’Reilly) — by getting him interested in the world of competitive birding.

Despite an early reel devoted to Jack’s deep depression, these new developments feel awfully contrived in an “Andy Hardy cures old buzzard’s blues” fashion, with Hoskins in the grumpy Lionel Barrymore role, Stewart as Shirley Temple and Latham as Mickey Rooney in “Boy’s Town” (or maybe Erik Estrada in “The Cross and the Switchblade”).

When Rosie goes missing, there’s a crude indictment of mob psychology when Jack is targeted by some blatantly low-class local gossips. His estranged son (Sam Talbot) comes around to embracing dad in even more contrived fashion than the tots, while revelation of Stephanie’s backstory is PC-dom run amuck. Ending ties every last narrative string into a filigreed bow, punishing the one-dimensionally wicked while rewarding the one-dimensionally good. “Ruby Blue” is no doubt well-intentioned, but ends up more silly than touching, let alone credible.

To their credit, cast and design collaborators abstain from amplifying Dunn’s eventually hysterical tenor. Some striking sea-and-sky shots top a pro tech package.

Ruby Blue

U.K.

Production

A Target Entertainment release, presented with Old Vic Prods., Pink Sand Films, of a Medb Film production, in association with Screen South. (International sales: Medb Films, Ramsgate, U.K.) Produced by Elaine Wickham. Executive producers, Sally Greene, Alison Rayson, Charles Finch, Kate McCreery. Co-producers, Justin Lanchbury, Mark Foligno. Directed, written by Jan Dunn.

Crew

Camera (color), Ole Bratt Birkeland; editor, Emma Collins; music, Janette Mason; production designer, Stevie Stewart; sound (Dolby Digital), Maurice Hillier, Neil Collymore; assistant director, Simon Hinkly; casting, Tania Polentarutti. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, March 11, 2008. (In Cinequest Film Festival, San Jose -- competing.) Running time: 107 MIN.

With

Bob Hoskins, Josiane Balasko, Jody Latham, Josef Altin, Jessica Stewart, Shannon Tomkinson, Sean Wilton, Angelica O'Reilly, Ashley McGuire, Chloe Sirene, Michael Mills, Sam Talbot.
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