Roger Hendricks Simon in Love in Kilnerry (Photos: Archway Pictures)

By Matt Brunson

★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Daniel Keith
STARS Daniel Keith, Kathy Searle

While many of the best movies manage to satisfy viewers from 1 to 100 (well, give or take a dozen years), others are obviously created with certain age groups in mind. I imagine the makers of, say, The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure didn’t really expect anyone over the age of 5 to warm up to their film. Similarly, here’s Love in Kilnerry to target the other side of the age demographic: It’s hard to imagine many under the age of 65 being blown away by this.

It’s obvious that writer-director-star Daniel Keith (adapting his own play) means for Love in Kilnerry to be a Yankee descendant of those beloved British/Irish/Scottish hits from decades past, those quirky comedies focused on the eccentric residents of (usually) small towns surrounded by plenty of countryside. There’s Local Hero and The Full Monty and Waking Ned Devine and Calendar Girls and Kinky Boots and on and on and on. A high percentage of movies in this vein worked because the filmmakers applied the quirkiness with just the right light touch. But with this new release, the whimsy is flimsy and forced, and this overreaching and occasionally overbearing stance too often leads to grimaces rather than grins.

The plot concerns the members of a small New England town learning from an EPA flunky (Debargo Sanyal) that a change in their water supply, a necessity due to it becoming tainted by the local chemical plant, might produce an unexpected side effect: It increases the sexual libido of anyone who drinks it. Since the town is largely populated by senior citizens, that becomes a concern for a number of reasons. But as time passes, all the residents save one — the repressed sheriff (Keith) — lighten up and welcome the heretofore secret loves and sensual longings that have been brought to the forefront by the contaminated water.

Debargo Sanyal (back) and James Patrick Nelson

It doesn’t take a college degree — heck, it might not even take a kindergarten “graduation” certificate — to guess the big twist that will make its presence known toward the end, but such an obvious denouement is often expected in this type of tale. What’s more damaging are the exaggerated comic beats that are dialed up to 11, thanks to both the oversized performances and too many scenes in which the broad humor falls flat. The acting is more suited to the stage than the screen, with no filters on several of the cast members. An exception is Tony Triano as the town mayor; he locates the right frequency at which to play his often excitable character and in the process delivers the film’s best performance.

But did we really need a groan-worthy scene in which the mayor and the priest (James Patrick Nelson) get into a physical skirmish? Or a painful sequence in which a local shopkeeper (Kathy Searle) stutters and stammers even more than a Woody Allen character as she makes awkward conversation with the sheriff? (There’s even the moldy moment when she thinks he must be gay because he doesn’t seem interested in women.) Or when the priest decides that he can be closer to God as a nudist and stands naked (except for his collar, of course) in front of the entire congregation? (Even in the context of a comedy, there’s something a bit … creepy about this.) There are many scenes like these, both undernourished and overcooked.

On the positive side, there’s a handful of sequences that work as intended, such as the bit where the priest is listening to two confessions simultaneously. And the film’s sex-positive messaging is appreciated, even if one must endure jokes about private parts covered by cobwebs. As noted above, it’s the sort of movie that will play like catnip to elderly audiences, who will embrace its seasoned characters, its broad humor, and its conservative approach to potentially risqué material. In other words, despite the subject matter, it’s still much closer to On Golden Pond than to the adults-only spoof On Golden Blonde.

(Love in Kilnerry is playing in limited release around the country.)

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