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(2000) (Ian Hart, Sean McGinley) (PG-13)

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Comedy: After the single men of a small Irish town post an ad hoping to lure American women to their annual village dance, they and the town's women react to the prospects of new romance.
In a small town on Ireland's Donegal coast, the single men there don't see many prospects for getting hitched as long as they stay put. Even the local priest, Father Malone (RISTEARD COOPER), admits that he's yet to marry anyone there, including Kieran (IAN HART), the local butcher; Ian (SEAN McGINLEY), his older brother and sheep farmer; and Ollie (PAT SHORTT), who still lives at home with his mother.

Sitting around in a pub owned by former soccer star Pat (EWAN STEWART) and his wife Kate (NIAMH CUSACK), those men, as well as Sean (SEAN McDONAGH), the youngest of the bunch, and Mickey (DESSIE GALLAGHER), who looks like a rock 'n roller, decide to run an ad in the Miami Herald, hoping to lure American women to their annual dance and impress them enough to make them want to stay as their brides.

Sean's mother, Mary (RUTH McCABE), the local and nosy postmistress, however, reads their outgoing letter and soon the women in town, including Siobhan (CATHLEEN BRADLEY) who works for Kieran and obviously has eyes for him, know of their plan.

While the men primp and prepare themselves for the hopeful influx of American beauties into their town, the women set out to entice their own suitors, in this case a bunch of Spanish fisherman. As the big day approaches and the men spend their time hiding out at the bus stop waiting for the women, emotions begin to rise as unexpected romance, passion and arguments ensue.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Due to the urban sprawl, traffic congestion, crime and general unfriendliness that has overtaken our cities and suburbs, the romanticized notion of living in a Mayberry style small town is sweeping over many urbanites and suburbanites. Just the thought of the corner drugstore and barbershop, white picket fences and front porches, and people who know you by name is enough to elicit the longings to pack up the bags and move to the neighborhoods of yesteryear.

By their very nature, however, such romanticized notions tend to obscure problems associated with such small town life. The old notion of familiarity breeding contempt might be a bit extreme, but the fact that everyone knows everybody else's business does present its own set of problems, especially when the population in question is small and/or isolated.

With the townsfolk behaving in something resembling that of an extended family, the idea of those of opposite genders dating, let alone eventually marrying each other, takes on something of a near incestuous flair. Thus, the influx of outsiders, who are usually as welcomed as the plague, becomes somewhat of a necessity, at least in the minds of some.

Of course, with the spread of corporate America and familiar franchises across the lands, it's becoming harder for anyone to find such an untainted town. Thus, the producers of the cute and mildly amusing "The Closer You Get" wisely chose to set their "we need some outsiders" film in a small village along the Irish coast.

While some may argue that such films, like 1998's brilliant "Waking Ned Devine" or the little seen Janeane Garofalo flick, "The Matchmaker," simply play off the repeated stereotypes of such Irish life (whether realistic or not), I've almost always found such films to be entertaining, at least to some degree. Whether that's due to the portion of Irish blood pumping through my veins from generations ago or simply the joy of taking in the accents and simpler lifestyle, these sorts of films have a certain built-in charm for me.

That said, "The Closer You Get" is certainly a "lite" version of such pictures. While the characters are properly charismatic and somewhat eccentric, and the film has a cute premise - the "desperate" single men of an Irish town advertise for American companions - the film never really ends up going anywhere.

That may just be the point. Playing off something of a twist on the old mail order bride phenomenon, the film attempts to mine most of its humor from those small town characters and their course of action and subsequent reaction to events that then follow, rather than the plot itself. To some extent that's a good thing since the basic story doesn't provide much in the way of humorous material or any sort of big payoff at the end, such as occurred in the somewhat similarly themed "The Full Monty (coincidentally, both films have the same producer).

Although one imagines that the expected arrival of the American women will jumpstart the proceedings and then propel the film into a new and presumably hilarious direction, writer William Ivory and director Aileen Ritchie (both making their feature film debuts) instead opt to maintain their focus on the small town inhabitants.

The result, while mildly amusing for a while and only to some extent, prevents the film from ever hitting any truly funny notes. Instead, the "zaniness" comes from little bits such a church sponsored night at the movies accidentally showing the Bo Derek film "10" instead of the obviously more appropriate "The Ten Commandments," that church playing tapes of famous church bells around the world instead of using its own, and a local postmistress who has a thing for steaming open any mail that passes through her hands.

While such moments give the film an overall cute feeling, they alone can't propel it even through its short ninety-some minute runtime. As such, the film eventually loses steam as it moves from one point to the next and not so subtly plays off the old, "grass is always greener" notion of people not recognizing and/or appreciating what's right under their collective noses.

For the most part, the performances are generally okay, although no one character stands out and steals the show. While clearly not completely likable in the role, Ian Hart ("Michael Collins") does a decent job of bringing his disillusioned character to life, while Cathleen Bradley (making her debut) gives her character enough right touches to play well off Hart's.

Fairing much better are Sean McGinley ("The General") and Niamh Cusack ("Paris by Night") as the star-crossed, would-be lovers, while Pat Shortt ("This is My Father") and Risteard Cooper (making his feature debut) are generally amusing as the town's oldest virgin and local priest respectively.

Although the film lacks the sharp writing, acting and clever script that made "Waking Ned Devine" a sleeper hit, it has enough of the requisite, built-in charm and lightheartedness to make it a fairly enjoyable diversion. While it never really gets anywhere and will probably disappear from theaters in the blink of an eye, for those needing a dose of small-town life - Irish style - you could do worse than this film. Decent, but not great, "The Closer You Get" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed March 1, 2000 / Posted March 10, 2000

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