We gave it a D+
If you liked ”Waking Ned Devine” and ”Saving Grace,” you may like the mulching cons who turn a prison garden into a bed of roses in Greenfingers. If, however, your allergy to comedies bred from British style mugging crossed with Disney style prancing has, like mine, flared up in recent years, this hybrid from writer director Joel Hershman (”Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me”) will make you wheeze.
Inspired by a 1998 New York Times article about British prisoners who won a medal for horticulture at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, ”Greenfingers” is about as subtle as an FTD bouquet in its look, theatrical style, story structure, and greeting card message of uplift: ”Sometimes it takes very little to put things right,” the ailing but rakish geezer convict, Fergus (”Waking Ned”’s David Kelly), tells the handsome but sullen romantic lead convict, Colin (”Croupier”’s Clive Owen). Fergus also tells Colin, ”Adversity is your ally,” and why the younger man doesn’t bash the old coot about the head with a potting trowel is a mystery to me.
Instead, Colin plants some flower seeds Fergus has foisted on him. And from that humble activity (punched up by stringed instrument music that all but sobs, ”Breakthrough moment!”), new motivations for living are born. Not only the geezer and the hunk, but also their fellow inmates — the boy, the hulk, and the striving black guy — all experience rebirth amid the compost.
The performances belong in the compost too. The drooping and mooning the previously icy hot Owen is required to do — emoting that collapses into actorly misery when Colin talks to his seedlings — is matched by the hamming and camping of the usually sultry cool Helen Mirren. She plays a celebrity gardening expert who favors big hats, and Mirren’s every big gesture appears to be a small cry for a stiff drink and a good watering.