Brendan Fraser plays a Yank who crosses the Atlantic, fleeing one organized-crime scrape and running right into another, in “Whole Lotta Sole.” Change-of-pace comedy for director/co-scenarist Terry George (“Hotel Rwanda,” “Reservation Road”) starts pleasantly if formulaically enough, then loses its grip amid a series of plot contrivances that mix uninspired broad humor with melodramatic and sentimental elements. Result is disappointingly forgettable, given the talent at hand. Theatrical fortunes are likely to be underwhelming, with name participants ensuring wider play in home formats.
Brief prologue finds Joe (Fraser) fleeing his wife (Emma Hamilton) in Boston, with her screaming “I love you” while wielding a knife. He’s had enough of that craziness, and three months later he’s running a vacationing cousin’s antique shop in Belfast, hoping that his ex’s parting “My daddy will kill you” (her dad being a major mobster) was just a figure of speech. On the upside, he’s starting a romance with Ethiopian refugee Sophie (Yaya DaCosta).
Also in dire straits with a crime boss is Jimbo (Martin McCann), who owes a sizable chunk of cash to vicious local kingpin “Maddog” Flynn (David O’Hara). Maddog, who’s apparently shooting blanks in his attempts to get his girlfriend pregnant, tells the lad that if he doesn’t pony up immediately, he’ll have to forfeit his own infant son.
Clearly this calls for desperate action, so Jimbo and a friend hatch a harebrained fish-market robbery scheme that predictably goes awry. Jimbo takes refuge in the antique shop — saddled with his baby, and with Joe, Sophie and two young petty thieves all stuck there as hostages. Quick as a wink, numerous kinds of armed authorities (led by Colm Meaney’s police chief) have surrounded the joint, the general hysteria heightened by their having mistaken Joe for the robber-captor.
Crowded ensemble includes too many unfunny, underdeveloped characters with their own interconnected mini-arcs. “This is such a mess,” Sophie exclaims at one point, and the viewer will likely agree. While boredom is hardly an issue with so many strands compressed into the relatively short running time, they ultimately cancel each other out, failing to achieve any real dramatic impact while compromising the overall comic tenor of George and Thomas Gallagher’s screenplay.
Though credited as an executive producer, Fraser gives a low-wattage performance, making Joe a simple nice guy while his backstory suggests something more complicated. Other thesps work in either naturalistic or caricatured mode, all game but ultimately wasted.
Production values are polished. The most notable element, for some, will be the original songs, produced by Rick Wentworth and mostly penned/performed by Irish recording star Foy Vance, who’s seen onstage in a pub sequence.