Stand Off, previously known as “Whole Lotta Sole“, is a fast-paced funny movie, but not one which a lot of people will “get” unless they are familiar with the basics of Northern Ireland and the American-born of Irish heritage.
The somewhat improbable, but possibly plausible plot, is that Joe Maguire, a Boston-born Irish-American, fleeing a situation in which his putative ex-wife (his divorce is still pending) seriously cuts his arm with a knife, changes places with his cousin who runs an antique shop in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, the move does not bring him the peace he seeks, his wife is the daughter of a powerful figure in the Irish-American mafia, and who should be extorting the town in which he settles, but another Irish mafia gangster, Douglas “Mad Dog” Flynn, a one-man crime wave.
This is modern post-Troubles Northern Ireland; the sectarian rivalry between the Catholic and the Protestant populations has been limited to snide comments as the fight has gone out of the IRA, commerce flourishes and the streets are peaceful. (While the Troubles were still going on, an Irish person I met at the time told me that a lot of people, Catholic and Protestant, in Northern Ireland didn’t really want to leave the UK, because they stood to lose generous benefits from a welfare state for an uncertain future. One scene in the movie which hints at this situation is the incident in which a character’s senile grandfather, mentally living in the glory days of the IRA, is given the use of a shiny new car by the National Health Service for his transportation to doctor’s appointments, with his youthful grandson as the designated driver. When the grandson was using the car in the plot to rob the fish market, his mother compelled him to take his grandfather, which resulted in a comedy of errors which compromised the heist, on the grounds that “if the NHS, which has spies everywhere”, were to see him driving the car without the grandfather, they would revoke the benefit and take back the vehicle.)
Other than Mad Dog’s gambling racket, loan sharking and shaking down of shop owners, the most excitement in this world comes from some common criminals (the tinker or gypsy population who live in a caravan camp on a hill above the urbanized area) breaking into shops undetected, and the exotically beautiful single female Ethiopian refugee working in the shop next door, having fled similar civil war type Troubles in her own country.
All these diverse lives intersect when Jimbo, a young Irishman, who might or might not be the illegitimate son of Joe Maguire, but bears a grudge against him for being an absentee father, initially stalks Maguire from afar, but is later thrown together with Maguire and the others in the hostage situation which develops after Reagan’s plan to hold up the fish market, Whole Lotta Sole, to pay off a £5,000 debt to Mad Dog, goes wrong. The plan was a beauty-in theory: the “Catholic districts” of Northern Ireland have a population which apparently still follows pre-Vatican II meatless Fridays rule by buying fish on Fridays. (At least, according to this movie.) With a secondhand Thompson submachine gun left over from a cache of weapons hidden away in IRA days, robbing the fish market on a Friday seemed like an expedient solution to Jimbo’s monetary problems. But problems crop up at every stage of the plan, starting with the fact that the Catholics of Belfast may not have changed their dietary habits, but many have switched to debit cards and electronic transactions, leaving the fish market’s safe much more empty of cash than anticipated. The Belfast Fish Market being as “mobbed up” as the former pre-Giuliani NYC Fulton Fish Market’s pre-Giuliani reputation, the armed robbery draws the unwanted armed attention of both the local constabulary and Mad Dog Flynn, leading to the situation in which Reagan, having taken shelter in Maguire Antiques, takes Maguire and Sophie hostage. Due to the involvement of heavy weaponry, the SAS (militarily equivalent of the USA’s army/national guard) in gets involved in, and attempts to usurp jurisdiction of something that is initially, and Detective Weller insists, still, a matter strictly for the police. The increasingly complicated situation which acquires the scale of an international incident in the making is defused by the accidental acquisition of evidence against Mad Dog and some American-style let’s-make-a-deal bargaining with the authorities in the person of Detective Weller, who would just love to catch Mad Dog, and is willing to let the “small fish” swim free in exchange for valuable property stolen by Mad Dog and the seizure of Mad Dog’s alternate passports.
Detective Weller is wonderfully played by Colm Meaney, who plays the middle-aged, middle management family man he has portrayed in so many movies and television series, while Michael Legge, as son Randy Weller, plays the younger generation, a member of the “helping professions” in the Community Relations division of the police force, who describes himself as “both” a law enforcement officer and a social worker, eats granola where his father eats fried food, and goes running with and without the “gypsy” children whom he takes on track and field outings. Son Randy is also the product of a mixed marriage, his mother being Catholic and his father Protestant. Thus, theoretically, he was supposed to have been raised Catholic, but, at least for the purposes of the movie, that didn’t happen. Randy’s revelation that he “switched sides” some time ago and had been accompanying his mother to Mass is a “coming out” type of situation which adds to the comedic value of the plot.

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