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Review: Scottish comedy ‘Whisky Galore!’ is likable, but doesn’t compare to 1949 version

Eddie Izzard in the film "Whisky Galore."
(Graeme Hunter PIctures)

Britain has a grand tradition of good-natured comedies about the low-key charms of eccentric small-towners. One of the first and most enduring is 1949’s “Whisky Galore!,” the Alexander Mackendrick-directed, Ealing Studios adaptation of Compton Mackenzie’s WW II-era novel about a remote Scottish island that runs out of booze just as a liquor-laden supply ship wrecks nearby.

The version producer Iain Maclean has come up with — alongside director Gillies MacKinnon and screenwriter Peter McDougall — is light and likable, if ultimately inessential.

The new “Whisky Galore!” pads out the story of Scotch-thirsty islanders outwitting the officious British Home Guard, adding too many subplots and detracting from the original book and movie’s simple culture clash.

But Maclean and company were smart to hire Eddie Izzard to play the captain who tries to track down stolen crates of spirits. Not really a villain — he’s more of a patriot who wants to impress his superiors — he represents the general amiability and minimal stakes of a tale that takes place during the war but is devoid of violence.

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Granted, there’s not much reason to watch this “Whisky Galore!” so long as the 1949 version still exists. But it’s clear that everyone involved with this production had genuine affection for the material and for the very idea of old Scotland as a genteel utopia populated by kindly tipplers.

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‘Whisky Galore’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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