A spunky 9-year-old convinces his town in County Cork, Ireland, to come to the aid of a shady Colombian who’s crashed a small plane nearby in “The Runway,” a blandly formulaic pic whose boldest stroke is tossing a few swear words into the Irish blarney. Debuting feature helmer Ian Power, also scripting, has assembled a relatively pleasant package, but it’s old enough to grow whiskers — tonally a cross between “E.T.” and a minor Disney family-friendly film from the 1960s. Notwithstanding an award in Galway, “Runway” is only likely to take off at kid fests and cable.
Young Luxembourg shingle Lucil Film provided extra funds, manpower and interior locations, helping to foot the $3.4 million budget with top-billed Irish outfit Fastnet Films. The inspiration for the story comes from a near-forgotten 1983 news item about a South American pilot crash-landing in rural Cork; the improbability of such a tale certainly piques interest, yet Power’s fictionalized twists feel forced.
Nothing much happens in Dromoleen, though Paco (Jamie Kierans) holds onto a bit of mystery by imagining the father he never knew to be a romantic Spaniard. Mom Grace (Kerry Condon) doesn’t clear up that question; nor does the script, but Paco’s determination to one day meet his Iberian padre inspires him to listen to Spanish-lingo tapes as he goes to sleep.
The language lessons come in handy when a plane crashes into a field, and pilot Ernesto (Demian Bichir, Castro in “Che”) has to explain himself. As the sole semi-Spanish speaker in the area, Paco becomes official translator, though he winds up inventing a sob story about Ernesto needing to get medicine for sick townsfolk back in Colombia. Despite increasing signs that the pilot’s story doesn’t add up, the locals chip in to repair the plane and build a runway because, as Ernesto’s told, “I don’t know who ya are, but this town got a whole lot better after you showed up.”
“Warmhearted” will be the adjective most used to describe the pic: Power’s main goal is to play on auds’ nostalgia for a dreamy time past when people altruistically helped each other. Though striving for a touch of Frank Capra, “The Runway” is more Norman Tokar, mild and inoffensive (though a jokey IRA scene is of questionable taste). Perfs are everything they’re expected to be — solid enough within the limitations of the unchallenging script.
Visuals are attractive and suitably uncomplicated. Music, however, is poorly used, clumsily enabled by a superfluous pirate radio DJ (Mark Doherty) playing indie Irish rock. Rather than reinforcing mood or assisting elisions between scenes, the tunes are just distracting.