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On a Clear Day

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 04/14/06 00:03:54

"Pleasant enough, but painfully average"
3 stars (Just Average)

“On a Clear Day” isn’t so much a bad film as it is a thoroughly familiar and unnecessary one. It tells a heartwarming story of people coming to terms with their own personal demons while overcoming adversity and struggling against the odds to achieve a seemingly impossible goal–in other words, it tells the same basic story that we have seen dozens of times before and not even the presence of two strong actors like Peter Mullan and Brenda Blethyn is able to juice up the proceedings.

Mullan stars as Frank Redmond, a longtime shipbuilder on the docks of Glasgow who, as the film opens, is suddenly laid off. At a loss for what to do with his time and too proud to ask anyone for help, he spends hours on end swimming in the local pool. This seems like a strange idea when you consider that one of his sons died in a swimming accident a couple of decades earlier–an event that led to a seemingly permanent estrangement between Frank and his other son (Jamie Sives). Finally, he decides on a whim that the best way to restore his self-esteem is to swim the English Channel and begins training in earnest. Of course, he decides to keep this a secret from his son and wife (Blethyn) because . . .well, because that way, there can be a dramatic moment when they learn the truth and are angry that he didn’t confide in them (followed, of course, by the moment when they miraculously turn up at a key moment to give him the encouragement to push through). Luckily, Frank has a variety of colorful friends--including a goof (Billy Boyd), a nerd (Ron Cook), a blowhard (Sean McGinley) and a taciturn Asian (Benedict Wong)–to aid him in his training and supply colorful B-story moments.

In other words, what we have here is a combination of “The Full Monty,” “Ordinary People” and any five heartwarming movies-of-the-week that never gets around to providing anything fresh for the viewer. You keep waiting for something–anything!–to happen that will send a jolt but Alex Rose’s screenplay seems to have been carefully crafted so as not to agitate viewers with anything that they haven’t already seen before. The emotional subplots are too ham-fisted to generate any authentic feeling and the wacky humor from the supporting players (including one character known as, I kid you not, Merv the Perv) seem to have been included only because every movie of this type requires the stalwart hero to have a group of goofy buddies who have nothing better to do with their lives than to help him feel better about himself. And while Mullan and Blethyn are both fine in their roles, they never get a chance to cut loose and show what they are really capable off–watching them going through the familiar paces here is like watching a couple of piano virtuosos doing scales for a couple of hours.

“On a Clear Day” is a film that appears to be made solely for people who don’t go movies very often anymore–it is so concerned with giving them a pleasant evening of entertainment without troubling them in any way that it forgets to give the rest of us something of interest. It marks the feature-film debut for director Gabby Dellal and it shows that she can make a smooth, efficient and entirely competent movie–in other words, she shows that she has the skills to one day make an interesting film, even if this effort isn’t it.

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