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Published: Friday, 9/17/2004

Movie review: Danny Deckchair *

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Danny Deckchair is a fantastic human interest story - the kind of light, bright feature that appears on the bottom of a newspaper's front page or gets tucked into the 45 seconds between the sportscast and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on your local newscast. You chat about it with your grandmother.

What it isn't is prime movie material. Instead, it's a thin premise mistakenly thought to contain more than 45 seconds of relevance. Or at least it doesn't have much juice when the unique quirks of a human interest story are falsely outfitted with pretense and shoveled into that most familiar of whimsical settings: the wacky small town with an English accent, rolling green hills, and a colorful backwater community.

Think Waking Ned Devine.

Think Local Hero. Danny Deckchair's sole contribution to the genre is that it carries an Aussie accent. This is too bad because there really was a Danny Deckchair and he sounds like a unique guy. My press notes explain that he lived in California in the early 1980s. His name was Larry Walters. Apparently bored one day, he tied four dozen weather balloons to an aluminum lawn chair and reached heights of nearly 16,000 feet; his whim proved so successful that commercial airliners reported spotting him and the FAA took action against him.

Basically, that's the story of Danny Deckchair.

Accordingly, the flight in the movie is weird and charming - it's given the right pilot, too. Rhys Ifans, who played Hugh Grant's unwashed housemate in Notting Hill, plays the Sydney cement mixer Danny Morgan; for a period, Ifans (who is Welsh) seemed to be the next generation of typecast nutcase, Great Britain's answer to Christopher Lloyd. After Danny and Vanity Fair, in which he plays moonstruck Dobbin, he's being positioned as an unlikely heartthrob - the next Hugh.

That I'll buy.

That Danny Deckchair, once he has sailed away from his bad girlfriend and dead-end existence and landed in a repressed small town, has the potential to become an inspirational politician - that, I gag on. There's nothing offensive here; the film has a good heart. Danny crash-lands in a tree outside the home of a lovely town cop (Miranda Otto, Eowyn from Lord of the Rings). He finds new friends, ones who don't question who he is or apparently watch TV; if they did, they'd see the missing Sydney man's face plastered all over it.

Why his arrival makes Danny an unofficial self-esteem guru and a font of wisdom, I don't know. Yet sure enough, by film's end Danny is giving speeches about self-worth and delivering homilies for the common man. There's nothing wrong with homilies for the common man; I just don't know what they're doing here.

But I have an idea. The town's name is Clarence - the name of the angel in It's a Wonderful Life. Frank Capra was a master of combining cornball sentiment and whimsical humor. He also had a dark, desperate side. Jeff Balsmeyer, a newcomer, does not. He delivers backhanded compliments all the way; he goes for the heart without remembering the head. Danny proves the city is cynical, that rural folk are the only honest souls left - even when you land in their trees, they're so polite they don't even ask where you dropped in from. But then, it takes an idiot to raise a village.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com

or 419-724-6117.



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