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.