'Hear My Song' should be seen and heard by anyone with a heart

February 28, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

Anybody who doesn't love "Hear My Song" should be put in a zoo as an example of what the rest of us should not become. It's sweet enough to cuddle.

"Hear My Song" is one of those shambling wrecks of a picture that does everything wrong. It's like a drunk on a high wire; it just keeps wobbling and teetering and threatening to collapse into catastrophe and when it has reached its destination, you realize how far it went, how gracefully it traversed the distance and how you adored its every second. It's blarney crossed with corn-beef and cabbage, well lubricated with a loosey-goosey bonhomie that several cases of Harp's Lager might induce.

Beginning in the Irish section of Liverpool, it watches a familiar type, the charming schemer Micky O'Neill (Adrian Dunbar) try to finesse and beguile his way through life. Micky, with the gift of gab and a penchant for misrepresentation, has leased a music hall as part of a downwardly spiraling entrepreneurial scheme; he failed when he brought "Franc Cinatra" to town and now he must try one more scam to keep from going under. He hires "Mr. X," under the assumption that "Mr. X" is the great Irish tenor Jo Locke, who fled Britain 25 years earlier when the stuffy British insisted that he pay his taxes.

Of course "Mr. X" is not Mr. L; he's just a Mr. Nobody. The transparency of the deceit is so obvious and craven that it blows up in Micky's face, costing him his lease, his reputation and his girlfriend, whose mother was once the great Jo's lover, way back when.

Micky isn't a bad boy, just a naughty one whose slippery tongue frequently gets him in more trouble than he can begin to conceive. Thus, he sets out to make right what he has done wrong, and win back all that he has lost. He travels to Ireland to find the authentic Mr. Locke.

If ever an actor was born to play an Irish tenor who is both fat and sexy, it's Ned Beatty and Beatty, realizing he's gotten the role of his lifetime, lets fly. Beatty is terrific, a mixture of vanity and talent, manipulation and ruthlessness. Yet, he's not entirely bereft of his humanity and not without a fund of sweet memories for those he left behind in his flight to his very comfortable and selfish exile.

The two scoundrels -- Jo and Micky -- join on a quest for salvation. In an American movie, this would signal punching the story into Uplift Gear, uplift being the flavor of the decade in Hollywood. Not so here. Director Peter Chelsom keeps the story small and charming, always looking for the good in people. If any word describes the movie, it's "kindness." It's a movie that sees decency in everybody, a small miracle for our times.

'Hear My Song'

Starring Ned Beatty and Adrian Dunbar.

Directed by Peter Chelsom.

Released by Miramax.

Rated PG.

*** 1/2

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