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With: Pierce Brosnan, Julianna Margulies, Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea, Alan Bates
Written by: Paul Pender
Directed by: Bruce Beresford
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic material and language
Running Time: 93
Date: 09/09/2002

Evelyn (2002)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Children of the Cornball

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It wouldn't come as a surprise if Hollywood suddenly revealed that it employed a team of people who went out into the world to find "true stories" on which to base movies. Once they're bought and paid for, another team of writers begins hammering at them, grinding and shaping them to fit into a formula, turning a sleek, graceful wild animal into a McDonald's cheeseburger. That's the scenario with Evelyn, a new film by Bruce Beresford. It starts with the noble "based on a true story" tag displayed in the opening credits even before the cast list, and ends with the predictable type explaining how the actions of the hero changed the world for the better. In-between those comes a slick, syrupy concoction with every feel-good-movie-of-the-year gimmick designed to make us wring our hands and cry on cue.

In this "true story," Desmond Doyle (Pierce Brosnan) wakes up one morning in Ireland to find his that his wife ran off with another man, deserting him. As a result, his two sons and beloved daughter Evelyn (Sophie Vavasseur) are hauled away to public institutions. Doyle first turns to drink to console himself, but he meets an attractive (inexplicably single) barmaid, Bernadette (Julianna Margulies), who introduces him to her brother, Michael (Stephen Rea), a solicitor. Michael, in turn, enlists Nick Barron (Aidan Quinn), an Irishman raised in America, and Thomas Connolly (Alan Bates), a former rugby champ who studied law on the side, to help him get his kids back. After a seemingly endless series of weepy scenes with Doyle visiting his daughter and hugging her -- for some reason the sons are kept on the sidelines -- the trial gets under way. There's a false start in small claims court before the big finale in the Irish Supreme Court.

First-time screenwriter Paul Pender cooks up a few intolerable devices to help his creaky story lurch along. Evelyn's grandfather, just before croaking in the local pub, tells her all about "angel rays" -- beams of sunlight that filter through the trees. They're really angels looking out for her. After the grandfather's death, Evelyn becomes convinced that he's visiting her through the rays. Of course, the rays show up just as she's become flustered on the witness stand during the big trial. There's also an evil nun who beats Evelyn, and an evil judge who wants nothing more from life than to rip loving dads away from their cute kids. When Doyle wins his case (no surprise), Beresford cuts to single shots of the nun and judge brooding over their loss. Curses! Foiled again!

For two decades, Beresford has been an Oscar pimp, routinely turning in bland, serious work that occasionally wins notice: Tender Mercies, Crimes of the Heart, Driving Miss Daisy, Mister Johnson, Black Robe, Bride of the Wind. I doubt any of these titles are flying off video store shelves these days. But to his credit, he manages to generate some suspense and bring the movie to a belated half-life in the courtroom sequences. (I admit, I'm a sucker for courtroom dramas; I even like Hitchcock's universally despised The Paradine Case.) Evelyn also hints at a colorful interaction between the lawyers and their charismatic client, but any organic scene to develop character is dropped for the sake of boring scenes that only further the plot. Pender also employs the annoying screenwriter's trick: If he can get two plot devices in one scene, the scene will survive the editing process, even if it's ridiculous.

While the real-life Doyle may be couragous, Evelyn has little to do with real life. For a more realistic true story, try this: Clueless moviemakers sucker innocent moviegoers into paying nine bucks for a stupid movie.

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