Eddie Griffin, Mo'Nique, Anna Friel, Tallulah Pitt-Brown
Have you cringed yet? Be honest. The name Eddie Griffin causes an almost immediate reaction. This reaction is usually not a positive one. Usually, it indicates that one is about to watch a stale, lifeless and stereotypical low-budget comedy (okay, okay...Griffin does manage to find his way into the occasional urban drama).
Eddie Griffin sort of reminds me of Stephen Baldwin. They both suffer from the "smirk" school of acting. It has grown almost impossible for me to take Baldwin films seriously, because that smirk is just always there. Griffin, far too often, gives me the same exact experience.
Most of the time.
"Irish Jam" is a straight-to-video release starring Eddie Griffin as Jimmy McDevitt, a "street" looking, bling bling wearing African-American man from the US who writes a poem and wins an Irish pub that has been offered as a prize as an attempt save it from the hands of an Irishman trying to turn the village into a commercial center.
"Irish Jam" is not a comedy classic. It's not an award-winning film, and it's far from memorable. It is, however, a clear sign that there may be more to Eddie Griffin that street swagger and stupid laughs.
There may actually be a charming, comic actor screaming to get out.
Maybe. I'm still undecided.
All I can say for sure is that "Irish Jam" made me smile...a lot. While the Griffin smirk was still present, it fit nicely in a story that required Griffin to be an outcast in a traditional Irish village. Along with the smirk, Griffin exhibited a certain charm and ease in the setting that made it much easier to suspend reality and go along for this silly little ride.
Griffin is surrounded by a supporting cast that feels authentic and who seem to work well with him. Anna Friel (Timeline), in particular, offers a charming performance as a young widow who takes a particular liking to Griffin. While this "interest" feels a tad forced, Friel's performance is sincere and spirited. As her daughter, who has been silent since her father was killed in a drunk driving accident several years earlier, Tallulah Pitt-Brown is a classic beauty who communicates clearly even without uttering a word throughout most of the film.
The film, in fact, was on the verge of a B-/C+ until the abysmal appearance of Mo'Nique as a woman desperate to marry Griffin. I find it appalling that anyone actually felt she would add anything to this film, and her failure here makes me dread even more than I already did her upcoming film "Phat Girlz."
Admit it. You're cringing.
Director John Eyre has directed mostly "B" range films, though his last film "Ripper: Letter from Hell" was moderately entertaining. It's hard to decide who deserves credit, but Griffin shows potential here that I wasn't sure he had. Is Eyre to credit? Part of me says yes, but ultimately it's hard to reconcile Griffin's potential with the film's overall convoluted structure. Is this a comedy? a drama? a social commentary? Eyre can't seem to decide. His lack of direction seems to have left his cast unsure of what to do with a script that has moments of heartwarming sincerity ripped apart by added on bits like Mo'Nique. The script is credited to Max Myers but feels like it may have been altered from its original vision. In fact, considering Myers' directorial history it seems a shame he didn't helm this particular project.
"Irish Jam," unfortunately, ends up settling for mediocrity as its end result. "Irish Jam" is an often charming, occasionally funny and beautifully photographed film that entertains more than one would expect but misses the mark far too often. It is ultimately betrayed by a lack of clarity and, yes, that distracting and disruptive performance from Mo'Nique.
A film where Eddie Griffin is charming, funny and shows flashes of acting? Now that's the luck of the Irish!
|© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic