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Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs

More chuckles than belly laughs, more episodic than Big Score, but still worth watching —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

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Juvenile humor aside, Irish Jam is a winning farce about the culture clash that ensues when a Southern California rapper wins his very own Irish pub in the tiny village of Ballywood, Ireland.

Invasion of The Bloods and The Crisps

Griffin reaches for new dramatic territory
Griffin reaches for new dramatic territory

When a money-hungry English landlord wants to take over Ballywood so he can raze the li’l village and make a heap of cash on Leprechaun Land, an Irish theme park, the locals decide to raffle off their only asset, the local pub, to pay the pub’s now-delinquent mortgage, which has soared into the millions of euros.

The raffle, which takes the form of a poetry contest, draws attention ‘round the world.

Enter Jimmy “The Jam,” a rapper who’s been living much too large in Southern California and now has creditors and a jilted bride on his tail. Five dollars, a cribbed lyric, and some time later, Jimmy is surprised to find himself the winner of the pub. “I’ve always wanted to live on an island,” he says.

When the villagers and their pub’s new landlord get a good look at each other, each finds the other lacking in charms. Some of the more conservative villagers are shocked that they’ve awarded the pub to a black guy (a “Yank,” no less), while Jimmy “The Jam” fails to locate the tanned, well-endowed “native girls” he was expecting. “It ain’t Jamaica, but I’m gonna ja-make the best of it,” he declares.

Yet Irish Jam rises above these lapses into lame humor enough to make you care about the shared fate of this goofy two-bit hustler and small band of Irish people who share a pub – and some history.

He’s Black and He’s Proud

Eddie Griffin, probably best known as the fast-talking Undercover Brother, reaches for new dramatic territory here. When the sparks fly between Jimmy and the Irish widow Maureen, luminously acted by Anna Friel, he must win her over on her terms. She doesn’t understand Jimmy at all, with his urban black accent, his stated preference for women of a certain build, and his quest to make a quick buck.

Griffin’s earnest-yet-self-obsessed Jimmy reminded me of Spike Lee (especially his black counterpoint to Woody Allen in She’s Gotta Have It). His new-found ability to listen, Friel’s genuine responses to Jimmy’s clumsy pleas, and some of the humor make this comic drama worth seeing.

Another reason to stick around for the predictable but well-earned ending is Maureen’s daughter, the quiet Kathleen (Tallulah Pitt-Brown in her first feature, looking like a young clone of Jennifer Connelly). When the pre-teen girl first peered out from behind her mother’s skirt, I predicted that if you introduce someone silenced by tragedy in the first act, she’ll have to do something new by the third. I was right, but regardless of her reluctance to talk, she gives a fine performance.

Common Ground

Irish Jam’s actors and writers all deserve credit for creating a winning film (when we’re not being bombarded with teenage-level gags about body part sizes or apparitions like the turkey-drumstick wielding “Psycho,” played by singer Mo’nique).

A couple of characters get the chance to give mini-lectures about history that illustrate some of what American blacks and Irish have in common, as do some of the gags (“I watched The Commitments seven times,” says Jimmy to Maureen. “I thought Jungle Fever was, how do you say it, ‘All good!’,” Maureen responds.) “When Kennedy became president, do you know what one journalist said?” asks Grandpa Duffy. “The journalist said, ‘Now the Irish are almost white.’”

In another scene, Jimmy describes Lincoln’s promised bequest of 40 acres and a mule to the slaves he was about to free, and the way he frames the anecdote shows that the people involved in Irish Jam were thinking about more than how to make the quickest buck from a cross-cultural dramatic comedy.

Amidst all that comes a convincing love affair that is largely initiated through music as Jimmy does his rapper shtick to the Irish musicians’ backbeat. The love affair develops between not just Maureen and Jimmy but also between him and her and Kathleen as a family. (I’m not spoiling anything here. You get just what you’d expect when you see the DVD box; this is not a documentary.)

  • jamie lewis: Possibly the worst collection of Irish accents ever on screen, even surpassing Tom Cruise, the most insulting stereotypes of both Irish, English and black American's ever seen on the screen. The simplistic plot was predictable from the start, could have been written by a child. The portrayal of Ireland (quite clearly filmed in England with an all English cast)was like something from before WW2 .
    A truly terrible piece of rubbish. And by the way smoking is banned in Irish pubs.
    January 14, 2007 reply
  • David Geller: I wanted to like this movie - about conciliation between races, nationalities and cultures. Unfortunately the movie just made it too hard.

    The first half hour of the movie builds the story but does nothing at all to build the characters. The viewer has no reason to feel anything for any of them.

    The rest of the movie is filled with bad movie cliches and hackneyed plot devices. The villain claims to want to convert the isolated Irish village into a Leprechaun theme park? Isn't the "convert it into a theme park" thing from the eighties?

    I wanted to like Griffin's character too because it's a softer role than usual for him as he tries to humanize the part. However, it just fails. It all fails and it's all painfully bad.

    This really is just a remake of the worst of the eighties films. It's a shame. August 17, 2008 reply
  • (anonymous): I thought this movie was hilarious!

    yes it had some inaccurate steriotypes, but Im Irish and I took no offence!
    I found it funny how old fashioned they think we are!

    I thought the story of Kathleen was very touching also.

    In my opinion for such a low budget it was excellent!

    Some good music
    from Anna Friel! December 17, 2008 reply
  • TIM: I enjoyed the movie.
    could have filled out the story.
    lot of gaps.But really seemed to
    have a heart.And like the people
    were trying to do the best in the situation.I was suprized at the ending.I think could have done with out the singer mo'nique.
    her character added nothing.
    January 4, 2009 reply