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Mully (Charlie Reid) is a precocious pre-teen who lives in the shadow of his saintly late mother. When he catches his scoundrel of a father (Lochlann O’Mearáin) stealing charity money, he snatches it back and takes off, only to meet Joy (Olivia Colman), a desperate woman ladened with a baby she doesn’t want. Embroiled together, she and Mully embark on a cross-country trip to the baby’s adoptive mother-to-be. At first, the pair clash, with their differing personalities, expectations and mixed-up roles: he’s the one with the mothering instinct and a strong sense of right and wrong; she is stroppy and bordering on amoral. But through their slow bonding, their hang-ups about family life are soon sussed out and confronted.

These are promising ingredients, and there’s a sliver of chemistry between Reid and Colman. Unfortunately, both performances are sabotaged by a weak script and inexpert mise en scène. The film is bereft of good gags (its proudest joke, which is harped on endlessly, consists of Mully and others calling Joy “mental” or “mentalist”) and their bickering rapport never quite rings true. Director Emer Reynolds, making her first fiction feature after several acclaimed documentaries, shows little aptitude for staging physical comedy, and seems at a loss with a cavernously wide frame.

As if to compensate for the dearth of good comedy, the film doubles down on its melodrama, with a string of didactic heart-to-hearts between the two leads, which begin early on and crop up again and again. These scenes are the film’s crutch, telling us in no uncertain terms the salient points about these characters and their foibles, clunkily attempting to pick up the slack in the visual storytelling and the humour.

Joyride stumbles as light entertainment and as heavy drama. Where it does succeed is as a tick-box exercise – the platonic ideal of a well-supported, high-profile Irish film. Such Frankenstein creations are typically Hollywood material with a thin Irish coating. In the case of Joyride, the framework comprises the typical beats of buddy comedies and road movies, peppered with local slang, a traditional music-inflected score and the requisite landscape shots of bucolic countryside, all brought to life by a cast of new and veteran Irish players led by an American or British star. Joyride has some particularly distinctive and gifted performers, such as Tommy Tiernan and Olwen Fouéré, but their cameos are unsatisfyingly brief and stodgy. The parts of the puzzle are mostly in place, but the film lacks the frisson its title implies.

► Joyride is in UK cinemas now.