The Van

on May 16, 1997 by Lael Loewenstein
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   This feature by Stephen Frears, the third adaptation of novelist Roddy Doyle's Barrytown trilogy (following director Alan Parker's "The Commitments" and Frear's own "The Snapper") was one of the few high-profile disappointments at Cannes. Notable only for a soundtrack by Eric Clapton and a sympathetic performance by Colm Meaney (a veteran of the preceding two films), "The Van" makes the case only that Frears (who helmed the exquisite "Dangerous Liaisons" and the nsufferable "Mary Reilly") has yet to find his voice as a director. His story: Out of work and nearly out of money, Dublin resident Bimbo Donal O'Kelly), a middle-aged baker, resolves to find a job that will keep him out of the local pubs and enable him to support his wife and hree kids. He decides to buy a van and turn in into a fish-and-chips establishment, appointing his best friend Larry (Meaney) as his business partner.
   Just as the novice entrepreneurs go to work, Ireland qualifies for the World Cup, an event that soon has scores of enthusiastic, aggressive and sometimes hostile customers lining up to buy fish, chips and burgers. But, amidst the festive spirit of the celebrations and the Van's burgeoning business, Larry and Bimbo's friendship begins to falter. The Van soon becomes a curse; when a health official threatens to close it down, the men decide to make a pre-emptive trike.
   Without an ounce of self-pity, Doyle's Barrytown books--and the first two films--offered irreverent commentary on the feisty Irish ability to prevail in the face of crises. But "The Van" trades social ommentary and Doyle's good-spirited humor for a tone so shrill it becomes almost unwatchable. Instead of gradually escalating the ension, Frears quickly launches into scenes of loud, full-scale arguments that backfire dramaturgically: You end up disliking both Larry and Bimbo, and "The Van" nearly drives you straight out of the theatre.    Starring Colm Meaney, Donal O'Kelly and Caroline Rotwell. Directed by Stephen Frears. Written by Roddy Doyle. Produced by Lynda Myles. A Fox Searchlight release. Comedy. Rated R for strong language. Running time: 105 min
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