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In 1943, A dying gunner, who was in a crash involving a United States B-17, gives a ring to a local to return to his girlfriend in the USA. Fifty years later, a man finds the ring and tracks down the girlfriend and the history of this ring. Set in Belfast and Michigan. Written by
Great filmmakers usually end their careers on a sour note and this is no exception; barring some inept future use of British lottery money it is unlikely that the knight Sir Richard (nay, call me LORD Richard) will get another 15 million pounds or so to blow again.
Pick your favorite: Henry Hathaway bowed out with SUPER DUDE (a blaxploitation film I had the privilege of viewing in Cleveland on a double bill at the Scrumpy Dump Theater (!) some 35 years ago; Billy Wilder ended with BUDDY BUDDY; William Wyler had THE LIBERATION OF L.B. JONES (on paper a step up from SUPER DUDE, but not by all that much); Frank Capra with POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES which he really hated, per his autobiography; Stanley Kubrick's EYES WIDE SHUT (hardly up to his high standards); Otto Preminger had THE HUMAN FACTOR, which I (alone?) liked (I've been a rabid Nicol Williamson fan since seeing him at Stratford as one of the greatest Macbeths, opposite Helen Mirren) and which costarred Attenborough. Even Michael Powell, apart from a look-back docu, culminated his career with an innocuous but hardly impressive Children's Film Foundation effort THE BOY WHO TURNED YELLOW, which I watched once at MoMA for completeness. There are obvious exceptions: Joe Mankiewicz bowed out with SLEUTH, an estimable movie and David Lean's A PASSAGE TO India was a winner.
Per the particularly self-serving (and useless) "making of" featurette on the DVD release titled "Love, Loss & Life", CLOSING THE RING is the folly of several producers who fell in love with a first-timer's screenplay based on the actual finding of an old wedding ring in the Irish hills. The flimsy, yet convoluted, script got funding and, per the interviews, bowled over Attenborough, too. How audience members react, limited to video fans in the U.S. where the Weinsteins thought better of wasting money on a theatrical release, is an individual matter, but the tired blood on screen here is frankly an embarrassment.
Some cinematic lions, notably Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer, as well as from a more recent generation Brenda Fricker and Pete Postlethwaite, are matched against some young talent, but the performances are uniformly poor. Having seen all of Attenborough's theatrical releases in first-run I concede he is capable of very good (Gandhi) but when he is bad, he turns out execrable material, notably the insulting A CHORUS LINE adaptation. I enjoyed YOUNG WINSTON, but then again I liked NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA by Schaffner back then too -pageantry is easy to take. But when Richard tried a genre film MAGIC for Joseph E. Levine, after making A BRIDGE TOO FAR for that once-famous showman, mediocrity ruled -about 10 steps below no-budget maestro Lindsay Shonteff's DEVIL DOLL.
Despite the filmmakers' protests of how moving and inspirational this love story hit them, on the screen it is flat and dull. The young cast, led by Mischa Barton, gives paper-thin performances, and the attempt by Attenborough "to be hip" by having Barton nude a couple of times is beneath contempt. That's as old a ploy as THE YELLOW TEDDY BEARS, a well-meaning (and boring) British exploitation film from 1964 for which I saw a vintage U.S. coming attraction just this past weekend (resuscitated by Something Weird Video) in which extraneous nude scenes were added to release it stateside as GUTTER GIRLS. Now I might accuse the Weinsteins of such ploys, but for Richard to stoop that low -wow!
The back and forth plotting from 1941 (actually 1944 it turns out in the narrative later) and 1991 to shoehorn in the Irish Troubles is undigested screen writing of the worst order. Connections between the two are lame and all the "maybe" and suggestive material goes nowhere. For example, strident Neve Campbell (a performance worse even than her terrible effort in the Alan Rudolph dud about sex INTIMATE AFFAIRS) as Shirley's grown up daughter creates wonderment as to "who's her daddy" but it turns out to be strictly a red herring, time-wise. Ditto casting Fricker of all people as the old-age version of a W.W. II "tart" who slept with all the Yanks -this hook is dangled for the viewer and left unresolved. Postlethwaite is perhaps the best performer in this one, but his role is 100% functional, designed for a big "reveal" only.
I've never seen MacLaine so disinterested (and uninteresting) in a movie- she looks like she's playing under protest. The character of a woman who had basically three beaux but wasted her life attached to the dead one is admittedly unplayable but she doesn't even try. Plummer has more energy, perhaps he alone was given Geritol on the set, but this is a thankless assignment as the "good buddy" who never got the girl. The debuting young Irish thesp Martin McCann is insufferably cheery in what turns out to be the lead role, the boy who found "the ring". Closeups and other emphasis on the object make one think we are living in the shadow of Tolkien, but needless to say this totem is of zero importance.
CLOSING THE RING is so bad one is reminded of the late Frank Perry's disastrously soapy MOMMIE DEAREST and MONSIGNOR, for which a wonderful director ended up being the butt of catcalls from Midnight Movie audiences. Unfortunately, its plotting is too dull and execution too mediocre for this lame RING to end up with any such afterlife, avoiding even the pitiful fate of having Hedda Lettuce lead camp followers in weekly derision at my local Chelsea (NY division, not England) cinema.
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