A catchy title, a swell narrative hook and a steady stream of irreverent laughs make “The Most Fertile Man in Ireland” most likely to succeed indeed. Pic’s antic appeal palls somewhat in the last act, when both Jim Keeble’s clever script and Dudi Appleton’s hyperactive direction develop a major case of not knowing when to quit. Some streamlining of cluttered final reel would help this precocious comedy lengthen its legs as a potential sleeper at home and abroad.
Gangly, ginger-haired, pasty-faced Eamonn (Kris Marshall) is still a Belfast virgin at age 24, and living at home with his once-swinging, now-zaftig Ma (Olivia Nash) probably doesn’t help matters. She conceived him in a quickie dalliance with a Tom Jones-like lounge crooner who abandoned them both long ago. Such casual shagging, let alone an actual relationship, seems well beyond the hapless hero’s grasp until he inexplicably catches the eye of local bombshell Mary Malloy (Tara Lynne O’Neill), who notes, “I’ve snogged some real toads in my time,” yet gleans a potential Dirk Diggler in bumbling Eamonn.
More or less wrestled to the mat in a hilariously athletic “first time” sequence, he duly proves a man of, er, exceptional dimensions and stamina. This episode lends Eamonn courage, after a fashion, to approach his true objet d’crush: Goth-looking Rosie (Kathy Kiera Clarke), who runs the mortuary across the street from Eamonn’s own dating-service place of employ. She’s available — but their first date inconveniently coincides with the news that Mary, despite her battalion of birth-control methods, is now pregnant. A trip to the doctor confirms that Eamonn’s sperm count is off the charts.By nature still a hand-holding, mother-said-we-mustn’t geek, Eamonn is more alarmed than exalted by this revelation. His co-worker Millicent (Bronagh Gallagher), however, smells an entrepreneurial opportunity. With global male fertility rates plummeting, and the Emerald Isle’s Catholic population hobbled by a Church ban on artificial insemination, she advertises a reluctant Eamonn’s professional hire as door-to-door stud. He’s an instant hit. Even the neighborhood priest, weighing test tube babies vs. infidelity, shrugs approval toward this “lesser of two sins.”
Population stats being a matter of serious political/religious import in troubles-plagued Ireland, however, the one-man baby boom attracts attention of Royalist fanatic “Mad Dog” Billy Wilson (James Nesbitt), who demands at gun point that Eamonn’s scattered seeds help the Protestant majority stay that way.
Up to this point frenetic comedy is giddily infectious, if occasionally overamped. But script piles too many complications on an already heavy plate, and the abrupt shift to a seriocomic tenor lacks conviction. It also lacks restraint: Actor-turned-first-time-feature-helmer Appleton excels at noisy, cartoonish farce (brash confidence recalls John Hughes and P.J. Hogan’s debuts), but he can’t downshift to save his life. Out of its depth, but still straining to please, pic’s relentless energy wears thin well before a gratuitous “Look Who’s Talking”-style tag.
Trimming subplots (including the late arrival of Kenneth Cranham as Eamonn’s reprobate dad) and ditching a few too-cute penultimate bits would do much to maintain “Most Fertile Man’s” ample appeal.
Though he can’t salvage character’s misconceived eventual bout of unfunny angst, lead Marshall is otherwise a rubber-limbed, ingratiating comic find. Clarke’s slightly dull love interest is cast’s sole weak link, with particularly inspired, albeit too brief, turns by TV veteran Nash and newcomer O’Neill.
Tom Conroy’s candy-colored production design is a major plus, its vaguely ’60s-suburban garishness abetted by Eimer Ni Mhaoldomnaigh’s John Waters-worthy costumes and Ronan Fox’s bright lensing. No doubt as ordered, editor Emer Reynolds maintains a pace that sometimes crosses the line from bouncy to bombastic. Soundtrack is aptly peppered with fun pop tunes by such Irish artists as the Undertones, Picture House and the Waterboys. Only hurdle for offshore auds will be catching all the jokes in heavily-accented, rapid-fire dialogue.