Breakfast on Pluto

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Breakfast on Pluto opens with heartthrob actor Cillian Murphy all dolled up in drag, bouncing down the street to a sugary ’70s pop song. It’s a fabulous start, but the Neil Jordan movie, based on Patrick McCabe’s novel, never fully realizes its potential to be unabashedly campy or emotionally daring, despite Murphy doing his best to give the performance of his lifetime.

Jordan, whose mix of cross-dressing and Northern Ireland’s politics worked better in 1992’s The Crying Game, brings us the story of Patrick “Kitten” Braden, played with a sweet, hushed voice and a sparkle of sassiness by Murphy.

Kitten, or Saint Kitten as he sometimes asks to be called, is the son of a parish priest (Liam Neeson) and his cleaning woman. His parents abandoned him as an infant, leaving him in the care of a harsh foster mother and sister. His preference for women’s attire, his smart mouth and his mischievous nature get him into trouble at home and at his parochial school. Plus, the violence and political turmoil percolating in his hometown near the Ireland-Northern Ireland border proves too “serious” for Kitten to handle. So, he says goodbye to his faithful group of childhood buddies and heads off to 1970s London to seek out his mother. Once there, however, Kitten — whose take on cross-dressing is generally more like a less masculine version of early Bowie than The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert — wanders through a maze of partying, prostitution and bad men. Along the way he gets mistaken for an Irish Republican Army terrorist, lands in jail and faces dead ends in his quest to find his mother. It takes a visit from his priestly pops to set him on the right course.

By the time Neeson’s Father Bernard re-enters the picture, however, it’s too late to care. Jordan, who also wrote the screenplay, is too broad, turning what could have been an endearing, personal picture into a painfully slow and sprawling tale.

He abandons Kitten, too, letting the character float through his trials — which include Yoko-ing a cheesy Native American-themed rock group and nearly falling victim to a prostitute killer (played by U.K. pop hero Bryan Ferry). The result is a hazy, drifting collection of incidents that don’t form a cohesive narrative, and don’t really show us anything more about Kitten — he’s either resilient or just lucky.

Jordan relies on gimmicks that are, remarkably, more annoying than the Native American-themed rockers’ anthems (which have titles like “Wig Wam Bam”). We get a pair of computer-animated robins, whose chirping is translated via subtitles into snarky commentary on the story, and cutesy title cards naming the movie’s three-dozen chapters.

Jordan relies too much on these frills and his saccharine sound track of bygone pop to set the tone, leaving poor Murphy to amble along in Kitten’s stockings and high heels, wandering from one bad situation to the next without a compass to guide him.

 

Showing at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111).

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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