Escorting a crackerjack cast down the well-trod road of picaresque debt collection, the Irish “Perrier’s Bounty” is ultimately a weak narrative tea, with sufficient flashes of virtuosity — from Brendan Gleeson, Jim Broadbent and Cillian Murphy — to attract some attention to what will be its limited arthouse run. Not eccentric enough to develop a cult following, “Perrier” is an uneven mix of conventional caper and sentimental hooey, but there’s no denying a certain quotient of fun.
Pic exhausts most of its bounty of fun early on. Michael (Murphy) is taking a drunken afternoon nap when he’s awakened by two goons, Ivan (Michael McElhatton) and Orlando (Don Wycherly), ready to collect what’s owed their boss, fearsome loan shark Darren Perrier (Gleeson). Talking his way out of it — as indebted heroes always do, a least at the beginning of a film — Michael earns a baseball bat to the knee, at which point his lovelorn downstairs neighbor/suicidal best friend Brenda (Jodie Whittaker), shoots Orlando dead. Ivan flees, but Michael is beside himself: He’s got no money, a body, and a father, Jim (Broadbent), who thinks he’s dying.
It seems Broadbent, the Englishman in the Irish woodpile here, has become the U.K.’s answer to Bill Murray. Or vice versa. He’s so confidently droll, so in control of every moment and has to exert so little effort to steal each scene, that he becomes the rising tide that lifts all boats. Even while Michael and Brenda wax tiresome trying to get their romantic act together, Broadbent keeps the piece afloat with his sense of imminent hilarity — a promise Mark Rowe’s not particularly funny screenplay can’t match.
Jim has had a vision of the Grim Reaper, who narrates the tale via the voice of Gabriel Byrne, and so figures he has less to lose than anyone else as he waves Michael’s pistol in gangster’s faces, steals a police car and does a prodigious amount of cocaine en route to shuffling off his mortal coil. It’s hardly fair to the actors: Murphy must perform in a state of constant apoplexy, while Broadbent gets to groove.
Gleeson has done this Irish mobster thing before, but his Perrier is a curious mix of brutality and sensitivity. When he finds out Ivan and Orlando were lovers, he’s hurt no one told him. He still won’t shake Ivan’s hand. But he is, theoretically, open-minded.
He’s also violent, but so is “Perrier’s Bounty,” to an incongruous degree: Ostensibly a comedy, the movie contains some really gruesome moments that, given the overall tenor, are a bit off-putting. It’s not that “Bounty” sets any new standards of mayhem, but careering as it does between saccharine moments of introspection and casual handgun murder suggests a director with less than total authority over his medium. There are some strong moments between Brenda and Michael, while others try one’s patience — so it goes with “Perrier’s Bounty,” which mostly percolates along, with the occasional hiccup.
Production values are adequate.