Made with the against-all-odds Brit-dramedy template that probably should’ve been broken — or at least put into lengthy hibernation — after the Full Monty, Gaby Dellal’s On a Clear Day leaks enough sentimentalism to slay Lars von Trier. The man against the wall here is Frank Redmond, a stoic, no-nonsense Glaswegian shipbuilder whose one-dimensionally asshole boss lays him off after 30 years of company dedication. So Frank reacts the way anyone would: he decides to swim the English Channel.
Needing help to train and plan, Frank recruits his crew of quirky mates — stock characters all, from the cutesy-lecherous Merv the Perv, the inept-but-cheerful Danny, and the loony-but-loveable sailor Mad Bob. From there, uninspired subplots abound, often having to do with Frank’s long-simmering guilt over his son’s drowning death (talk about irony!) and the alienation between him and his wife, Joan. When Frank finds new determination after observing a handicapped boy swimming the width of a pool, Clear Day reaches the treacle tipping point. Two guesses as to his success swimming the Channel and patching things up with his family a few minutes later.
Dellal’s greenness is constantly apparent. Unlike in Jim Sheridan’s achingly sad and beautiful ode to his lost son, In America, the deep psychological wound of losing a child bears no weight in Clear Day. Only Frank seems to remember the kid; even Joan is oddly detached from any kind of mourning. As Frank, Peter Mullan is the strong, rugged anchor of Clear Day. But Dellal undermines his performance — and the emotions at the movie’s center — with cliché pub humor, slapstick stupidity, and a goose-bumps-on-cue score. Clear Day is harmless enough, but, alas, that very ineffectiveness is its fatal flaw.