There's way too much blarney in Evelyn, a treacly father's-rights diatribe that will leave you feeling as though every heartstring has been tugged 20 times over by the time the final credits roll.
What makes the movie's failure to tone down the cheap sentiment even more egregious is that it's based on a true story, an Irish court case from 1953 that essentially gave single parents the right to keep their children and not have them end up in a Catholic orphanage far from home. The law that separated children from their parents was a moral outrage, and the trial that brought it down must have been a corker. But you wouldn't know that from what's presented here, as the entire case seems to hinge on some well-placed beams of sunlight.
Pierce Brosnan, enjoying the sort of perks that come from playing James Bond and making millions for your studio (I doubt the movie would even have been made if anyone else had starred in it), is Desmond Doyle, a hard-drinking Irish dad struggling to keep home and family together after his wife leaves him. But after his mother-in-law alerts the authorities to the family's dad-only status, his three children are whisked away to orphanages, with the promise that he can retrieve them when his lot improves.
Only he won't be able to; under Irish law, both parents have to agree before a family can be reunited, and since mom is traipsing about Australia somewhere, it's doubtful she'll be signing anything anytime soon.
Desmond works heroically to get his kids back, getting a job, forgoing the booze, even falling in love with a comely barmaid (Julianna Margulies) who seems excellent mother material. It's all for naught, of course, given the stodgy nature of Irish law and the high position of the church, which maintains that orphanages are the best way to raise a child in such circumstances.
Still, Desmond fights on, aided by a trio of legal minds (Stephen Rea as the fussy one, Aidan Quinn as the expatriate American who surprisingly rises to the occasion, and Alan Bates as the liquor-swilling genius) who spend most of their time not strategizing, but bemoaning the odds against them.
Not since the Roman Colosseum have the lines between good and evil been so clearly drawn. On one side are Desmond, his buds and every right-thinking Irishman (and woman); on the other are the courts, their haughty judges and attorneys, and the cruel nuns who run the orphanage where young Evelyn Doyle (a winning Sophie Vavasseur) gets beaten for sticking up for a friend who stumbled while reciting her catechism.
No emotion is left to chance in Evelyn - a shame, really, because we would have gotten the point even without all the mournful strings and hand-wringing lamentations. Saints preserve us from such stacked emotional decks.
Sun score: * 1/2
Starring Pierce Brosnan
Directed by Bruce Beresford
Released by United Artists
Rated PG (Thematic material, language)
Time 95 minutes