Strain spotting

Movie: Intermission

Studio: IFC Films
Release Date: 2004-04-16
Cast: Colin Farrell, Kelly MacDonald, Shirley Henderson, Colm Meaney, Rory Keenan
Director: John Crowley
Screenwriter: Mark O'Rowe
WorkNameSort: Intermission
Our Rating: 3.00

The Irish ensemble dramedy "Intermission" begins with a scene so startling, so sui generis in its ability to make your jaw drop in helpless surprise that I don't want to risk diluting one iota of its impact. I'll just say that it stars Colin Farrell in one of his least marquee-friendly incarnations, and that it could be the most astonishing sequence you'll see all year.

By "see," though, I'm speaking entirely euphemistically, because director John Crowley has chosen to bury the moment — and indeed, the entire film — in some of the most egregious hand-held cinematography yet put to celluloid. The frame shakes like a Polaroid pic-chah as the lens zooms crazily in and out, making us strain to discern what's going on before we're overcome by a severe case of motion sickness. Normally, this hateful technique is used to tart up movies in which not much happens anyway, but to have it short-circuit a passage that should by all rights be a tour de force — well, it's enough to make you doubt the existence of a true and loving God.

In a way, though, it's a perfect introduction to "Intermission," which is consistently undercut by its ingrained tendency toward the crass. The marketplace would be ill-served, one surmises, by merely seeing a phalanx of Irish losers and ne'er-do-wells united in a web of petty crime, sexual jealousy and dashed dreams; that sort of motivation-by-Möbius-strip is old hat by now. The challenge for today's moviemaker is to coat such proceedings in a layer of vomit, excrement and whatever other nutty fluids are quick tickets to a belly laugh. Or how about some brutal coitus between a young impotence sufferer and an older woman with a score to settle? That'll wow 'em in Elmira.

Oh, right, the plot. It has something to do with a dejected stock boy (Cillian Murphy of "28 Days Later") and his attempts to reingratiate himself with his ex (Kelly Macdonald) — an agenda complicated by his involvement in a hit that's being planned on the bank managed by her new flame. The great Colm Meaney ("The Commitments," "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine") is in it, too, playing a cop engaged in a prolonged bout of grandstanding for reality TV; there's also a lonely girl (Shirley Henderson) shrinking from the public shame of having an upper lip only slightly less shaggy than Pancho Villa's.

Promising stuff all around, and the plot threads intersect in consistently satisfying ways. But Crowley and writer Mark O'Rowe never know when to leave well enough alone. Girls with mustaches are pretty outré to begin with; is there any reason why Henderson's Sally must also have a nauseating backstory about a foul cad who ended their relationship by tying her up and taking a dump on her chest? Only to provide an appropriate symbol for "Intermission," which from its obnoxious look to its comedic coprophagia shows a limitless propensity for taking a perfectly respectable framework and pooping all over it.

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