Director and co-screenwriter Terry George ambitiously tries to get laughs from quirky behavior while simultaneously building tension in Stand Off, a Dublin-set hostage thriller that seems equal part gritty crime film and warmhearted character comedy -- it's a fusion of Sexy Beast and Waking Ned Devine.
Martin McCann plays Jimbo, a young Irish tough guy who owes the sociopathic local crime boss, Mad Dog Flynn (David O'Hara), far more money than he can scrape together. In a last-ditch attempt to steal the dough he needs, Jimbo swipes the daily take from a nearby fish market. However, he doesn't exactly make a clean getaway, and soon he's chased into an antiques shop run by mild-mannered American Joe Maguire (Brendan Fraser). The police quickly surround the store, prompting Jimbo to take everyone in the place hostage so he can use them to negotiate his way out of this seemingly impossible situation. As if things weren't fraught enough, it turns out that the owner of the fish market is Mad Dog Flynn, who now wants to kill Jimbo and pretty much everyone he's ever known. Also, as the hostages and Jimbo talk, the young thief and Joe come to believe there's a good chance that they are father and son.
There's another character, Detective Weller, played by Colm Meaney in what could best be described as the Brendan Gleeson role. He's a disheveled but good cop, who slowly pieces together how Jimbo ended up in this mess in between playful bickering with his family. Meaney is, as is usually the case, effortlessly charming and so thoroughly Irish that he gives the film a great deal of both substance and pleasure -- he not only makes the outrageous situation seem more plausible, he makes us want to find out how it will be resolved.
George, along with co-screenwriter Thomas Gallagher, pull off the trick of getting the audience to smile and laugh without undercutting the inherent tension of the situation. However, neither the comedic nor the thriller aspects of Stand Off come close to being as funny or as pulse-pounding as we want them to be. The odd combination of tones is likely to throw anybody who goes into this picture expecting a high-octane shoot-'em-up; it's a mistake exacerbated by the fact that Stand Off received a name change when it played in the United States -- most of the rest of the world saw it under the punny title Whole Lotta Sole, which is actually a much better representation of the film as a whole.
Thankfully, the movie has such a simple, straightforward, low-key approach -- as well as a uniformly likable cast -- that even if we never belly laugh or have our insides churning with tension, Stand Off makes for an enjoyable viewing experience.