Dir: John Crowley. Ireland. 2003. 106mins

An abrasive, sour-tasting ensemble piece, Intermission is a giddy Irish attempt to muscle in on the kind of territory previously mined by the likes of Amores Perros and Happiness. Ambitious in its scope, it has a confident swagger to its execution but lacks the originality or bite to withstand such comparisons. The return home of international bad boy Colin Farrell and the film's crowd-pleasing premiere at the 15th Galway Film Fleadh should readily translate into a must see commercial appeal on its Irish release perhaps even matching the returns of recent domestic hit Veronica Guerin. International theatrical prospects are much softer although the promise of writer Mark O'Rowe and director John Crowley should attract considerable Festival interest. After its Edinburgh premiere, the film screens at Toronto next month.

Heavily reliant on profanity and shock-tactic violence to grab the attention, O'Rowe's screenplay weaves together the fates of several bitter, battered romantics in modern Dublin. Supermarket worker John (Murphy) and girlfriend Deirdre (McDonald) have decided to take a break from their relationship. It is during this intermission that the world around them spirals out of control. Deirdre embarks on an affair with an older bank manager whilst a jealous John pines for the love he has lost. His colleague Oscar falls into a lusty liaison with the bank manager's spurned wife and both friends eventually agree to participate in a daring kidnap robbery masterminded by the psychotic Lehiff (Farrell). Others caught up in events include Deirdre's vulnerable sister Sally (Henderson) and tough guy detective Jerry Lynch (Meaney) who is thrilled that the daily hazards of his job will be captured by an eager reality television director. Events eventually bring John and Deirde back together, replacing chaos with order and saluting the power of love to triumph over even the most bizarre of circumstances.

Although entertaining in patches, Intermission struggles to encompass so many different stories or trace the connections between them. Moments of truth and raucous humour rub shoulders with contrived situations and unconvincing developments to create an uneven tone. Running jokes about brown sauce and delinquent children grow a little strained and there is a self-satisfied air to some of the humour. Drab cinematography from Ryszard Lenckzewski and an agitated approach that favours jumpy close-ups adds little visual polish or appeal to the proceedings.

The film's greatest asset is the first rate cast. Farrell may bring some heat to the project but plays a comparatively minor role in the overall ensemble and seems to be repeating his psycho Bullseye performance from Daredevil. Cillian Murphy's heartbroken romantic and Shirley Henderson's bruised and wary Sally make the biggest impression because they are the most emotionally rounded and believable figures. When their characters reach out to embrace the possibility of love, the film finds its true voice, revealing a charm and tenderness that are often drowned by the less appealing comic violence and suffering that predominates elsewhere.

Prod Co...Company Of Wolves
Int'l sales...Portman Film And Television
Prods...Neil Jordan, Stephen Woolley, Alan Moloney
Scr...Mark O'Rowe
Cinematography...Ryszard Lenckzewski
Prod des...Tom Conroy
Ed...Lucia Zuchetti
Music...John Murphy
Main cast...Colin Farrell, Colm Meaney, Kelly McDonald, Shirley Henderson, Cillian Murphy.