A bunch of hard-nosed Houston oil developers invade a remote fishing village in Scotland with one self-serving purpose in mind – to rip off the local citizens, buy up their sleepy picture-postcard hamlet, and turn it into an ugly oil refinery that will pollute the environment and blight mankind.
David Puttnam – who produced Chariots of Fire (1981) – and Bill Forsythe – who directed the sweet but Scottish coming-of-age film Gregory’s Girl (1981) – obviously see a situation here that is pregnant with comic possibilities.
Local Hero is meant to be a wry comedy about a head-on collision between two cultures, in the style of those charming, eccentric little post-war films from Britain about country villages crashing into the twentieth century, generally starring Alec Guinness and Margaret Rutherford.
But as a comedy, it’s so lazily wry that it’s only lazily amusing. As social commentary of the vulgar eighties, it’s pretty treacly stuff. And as a movie entertainment, it vanishes without a trace before you can ever locate it on a radar screen.
Burt Lancaster is the board chairman of the Texas conglomerate, a gentleman obsessed with astronomy, money, power, and “abuse therapy” – which serves as a contrivance to introduce a Don Rickles character who bursts out of closets and drops in from window ledges to scream insults at the demented old tycoon in what is supposed to be “comic thrust “.
Peter Riegert is the dope from the acquisitions department sent to Scotland to firm up the deal because his name is MacIntyre (little does Lancaster know that the fellow is really Hungarian).
Once ensconced in a quaint inn in the village of Ferness, the capitalists discover the charming locals are not such easy pushovers as presumed. Ferness is no Brigadoon, and the peasants are more than eager to get rich quick.
Among the less-than-colourful rustics, there’s an old hermit who, when asked what the coastline is worth, just roars with laughter. There’s the greedy innkeeper, who cooks MacIntyre’s pet rabbit for lunch. There’s a Russian sailor who plays the stock market. And there’s even a sexy marine biologist who wants to preserve the bay for a laboratory, and who may or may not be a mermaid.
The alleged “comedy” derives from the villagers’ mistaken notion that they will soon be millionaires, and the American capitalists’ slow initiation into the soothing way of life they’re trying to buy, until all the Texans ultimately want to do is change places.
Neither the people nor their motivations are ever totally believable, and it is never clear why either side would have the slightest interest in the other. The “local colour” shots are interminable; there’s even a dance-social that is the most excruciating party sequence on film since the Ukrainian wedding in The Deer Hunter (1978).
The Texas honchos are so corny they wouldn’t get past the bouncer at the Grand Ole Opry. The Scottish eccentrics are so pickled in atmospheric brine that they seem almost as rare and precious as the Loch Ness monster.
The acting is terrible, the actors are unappealing, the pace is slow enough to make a snail impatient.
Scotland is still an enchanted place, as the guidebooks say, but there is no enchantment in Local Hero.