Larry (Colm Meaney) has become used to being on welfare, but still gets upset when his son reminds him that their evening meal is paid for by the state. Larry’s best friend Bimbo (Donal O’Kelly) has, until now, held down a job in a bakery, but is devastated when he too is laid off. For a while, the two friends waste away the long days together, mostly drinking in their favorite bar, though
Larry does attempt to teach Bimbo the game of golf. But 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. The fact that the van lacks an engine is no deterrent. 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. At last they’re making money, enough to buy an engine for the van and even pay a visit to an expensive nightclub, where they attempt to pick up a couple of bored schoolteachers. But despite their success, the relationship between the friends becomes more strained, and a visit from a horrified health inspector proves a turning point in their partnership. There are plenty of amusing moments in “The Van,” but overall the film lacks the cohesion and economy of “The Snapper.”
For a while, the outrageous disregard for hygiene displayed by Larry and Bimbo during their food preparation is funny: In one scene, Larry’s daughter has to interrupt the cooking of hamburgers to attend to her baby, and somehow a diaper (fortunately unused) winds up in a fish sandwich; 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.
A fine gallery of actors fill in the marginal roles, with Ger Ryan outstanding as Larry’s very understanding and accommodating wife. Production values are fine, though the score by Eric Clapton and Richard Hartley is overly strident at times.