The Van is the third film [after The Commitments and The Snapper] set in the now familiar suburbs of North Dublin, as seen from the perspective of author Roddy Doyle. 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 small story expanded to feature length.
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; best friend Bimbo (Donal O’Kelly) has, until now, held down a job in a bakery. 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.
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. But despite their success, the relationship between the friends becomes more strained. There are plenty of amusing moments in The Van, 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.