There was a terrible time when most unproduced Irish screenplays concerned two larrikins searching hopelessly for a suitcase full of cocaine. Finally, we get the film all those pioneers were hoping to develop.
The singular Peter Foott, director of excellent shorts such as The Carpenter and His Clumsy Wife, has not constructed any sort of elegant, smoothly oiled machine. Inspired by a real news story, the script sends two idiots in search of drugs washed up in west Cork.
Along the way, things happen in no particular order. Narrative knots are tied up with furious haste. This remains, however, an enormously funny, genuinely sweet romp that – were it not for one jarring bum note – would register as a contemporary classic.
The key to the film’s success is a magnificent comic partnership between Chris Walley and Alex Murphy. You might detect a little of Laurel and Hardy in their turns as, respectively, Jock and Conor, but the hierarchies are not so sharp here. Jock may be a little more assertive and Conor the one who is more easily led astray. Both are, however, decent guys at the mercy of their baser instincts. They do terrible things, but they are not terrible people.
As in much of the best character comedy, there is an undercurrent of sadness to the piece. Whereas Conor has a loving mother (Hilary Rose) – who, nonetheless, taunts him mercilessly and hilariously – Jock, the supposed bad influence, comes from a home where alcohol is misused.
As they leave Cork city for the terrifying countryside, it’s impossible not to worry that they will bring about their own destruction. Withnail killed the proffered chicken with little hesitation, but a similar dilemma here threatens to traumatise Conor for life.
Foott finds plenty for the boys to do. A deranged copper hunts them obsessively like the trackers in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Conor’s fishmonger mum trades in priceless banter: “That’s called a sucker fish. That’ll be your nickname in prison.” Only the misguided casting of PJ Gallagher as a disabled antagonist – the gag isn’t nearly funny enough to counteract the potential offence – lets down an antic delight that should take serious coin in the domestic market.