Set in Ireland (but shot on location in the Isle Of Man), the gloriously charming Waking Ned is an eccentric blend of Last Of The Summer Wine, Weekend At Bernie's and Ballykissangel. That is to say, it boasts a couple of loveable OAP rogues, a dead body and just the right emerald-tinted, Guinness-sloshed snapshot of small-town Blarney that a worldwide audience expects. It's also got nudity and, even though it's bony, wrinkly nudity, there's something about unconventional, big-screen arse-bearing that strikes a chord with cinemagoers. For first-hand evidence, just ask the cash-counting producers of The Full Monty.
But big, flabby buttocks don't make a great movie. Not on their own. Waking Ned's success (and it entertains from start to finish) lies in its combination of believable story, keenly observed characterisation and top-notch dialogue. It's a joy to watch, as long-time friends O'Shea (Ian Bannen) and O'Sullivan (David Kelly) methodically track down their town's winning ticket-holder with gifts of crisps, scented soap, cakes, even a mammoth chicken dinner.
During this first 45 minutes we also meet Tullymore's colourful townsfolk: `Pig' Finn (James Nesbitt), the constantly odious pig farmer; Maggie (Susan Lynch), the single mum who loves Finn but can't stand the smell of him; Jackie O'Shea's long-suffering wife Annie (Fionnula Flanagan); and local misery-guts, Lizzie Quinn (Eileen Dromey), who scoots around the small village in her motorised chair. They flesh out the story (with a love triangle, a mystery baby and battery-powered evil) while the main plot chugs towards its inevitable conclusion.
Through the Bannen/Kelly connection, Waking Ned serves up generous helpings of greed (they want to keep the money for themselves), laughter (Kelly desperately riding naked on a motorbike) and deceit (to fool the lottery inspector the whole town must pretend that Kelly is Ned). Thanks to their towering performances, it avoids having the small, familiar feel of a TV movie and stands taller. True, writer/director Kirk Jones does sprinkle his Irish sugar a touch too enthusiastically amid the copious drinking and the bare-faced duplicity. But this can't halt a runaway plot which rolls, after negotiating a few tight story curves, to a satisfying finale that'll make you feel guilty for enjoying it.
Chances are you won't laugh out loud at Waking Ned: it's not that kind of blatant joke-chaser. But you will sit there with a big, happy grin, one that you won't be able to shake for hours. This Celtic comedy is a true crowd-pleaser: a gently funny flick about love, friendship and lots of money. All the things that make life worth living.