Jimeoin McKeown, a standup comedian from Northern Ireland resident in Australia since the early ’80s, has a cult following Down Under, and those fans will have to come out in force to rescue “The Craic,” a mildly amusing, partly autobiographical road movie. Film, which has opened here to mixed reviews, is amiable and laid-back, but McKeown’s screenplay sorely needs an injection of jokes to carry it over the frequent slow patches. Nevertheless, riding on a hefty publicity campaign from Roadshow, pic opened April 29 to boffo opening business, pulling in A$ 1.3 on its initial weekend, the second biggest opening ever for an Aussie production, after “Muriel’s Wedding.” Word of mouth is not so hot, however, so a quick tapering off would not be surprising. It stands a good chance in the U.K. and Ireland, but looks altogether too mild to make it Stateside.
An added liability is the title (pronounced “crack”), which the press book informs is Irish slang for a belly laugh or a good time.
In Belfast in 1988, Fergus (McKeown) and his best buddy, Wesley (Alan McKee, a regular in the popular BBC series “The Bill”), are involved in a violent confrontation with IRA hard-liner Colin (Robert Morgan) just before he’s arrested. Fleeing the Troubles, the pals wind up, seven months later, in Sydney, though they live in fear of immigration authorities because they’ve flaunted their visitors’ visas by finding work.
Fergus decides to participate in a TV dating show and is chosen by a bimbo-like beautician (Kate Gorman). The prize is a holiday on Queensland’s Gold Coast, but the somewhat gormless Fergus soon finds his “date” is more interested in the charms of the chaperone provided by the TV network than in him.
While he’s away, authorities led by Derek Johnson (Nicholas Bell) raid the roach-infested house where Fergus, Wesley and other illegal immigrants have been staying; Wesley manages to escape and joins his friend in sunny Queensland. In a strained coincidence, IRA man Colin arrives on the Gold Coast under a witness protection scheme after betraying some of his colleagues. Once he recognizes him , Fergus is bent on revenge.
Bulk of the film thus becomes a road movie in which Fergus and Wesley, in a VW van, head for the outback pursued by government agents, the vengeful Colin and latter’s secret service minders. Formula provides plenty of opportunity to encounter a variety of Aussie eccentrics, notably Charles (Bud) Tingwell as a fauna-hating melon farmer, Anne Phelan as an unlikely truck driver and various character actors as barflies.
The plot is nothing new, and indeed is the sort of thing Bob Hope could have turned into a funny, gag-driven farce in another era. That’s where “The Craic” falls down. Although it’s never exactly dull, the dialogue (a good deal of it not entirely comprehensible, thanks to McKeown’s broad brogue) fails to sparkle. The welcome possibility of romance with a couple of Melbourne backpackers (Jane Hall, Catherine Arena) never goes anywhere and is typical of the film’s tentative approach.
McKeown is an attractive personality, but though a success on the club circuit, he has some distance to travel to become a successful bigscreen scenarist. McKee is an amusing foil, but most other members of the cast are given only enough time to make fleeting impressions.
Pic has a grainy look but is otherwise technically competent, with a strong music track. Lead actor and screenwriter is referred to only by his first name in ads, posters and the press book, but his full name is used in onscreen credits.