The poorly animated robins with subtitled cheeps that open Neil Jordan's off-kilter period comedy Breakfast on Pluto are harbingers indeed. Their gossip about the goings-on at the rectory are meant to kick-start the story of Patrick "Kitten" Braden, a wandering Irish cross-dresser, but the reaction the birds sparked in me -- "that's a bit of too-cute nonsense" -- cheep-cheeped in my head for the next two hours.
In a small Irish village near the Ulster border, the baby Patrick is abandoned. Taken in by a joyless woman, young Paddy delights in donning women's clothing. The increasingly flamboyant teen-age Patrick, who now prefers to be called "Kitten," finds the village stifling, and sets off into the wide, wild world (i.e., London) hoping to locate his long-gone mother. Thus begins his fantastic adventures involving nothing less than bikers, bombs, sex work, shabby magicians, Wombles, cops and villains, pregnancy, the Troubles ... and "oh, serious, serious, serious," as Kitten is fond of sighing.
Except that it's not. Jordan's film, adapted from Patrick McCabe's novel, presents one utterly silly scenario after another without ever making a point. Or worse, since the whole spangled melodrama is proffered by Kitten, without ever letting us learn who he is, what inner demons might motivate him, or whether he is even a reliable narrator. Since Kitten is a cartoonish cipher, what to make of scenes such as when Kitten, while being pummeled by London cops, begs to be allowed to stay in jail?
Cillian Murphy -- hot from his triumphs in Batman Begins and Red Eye -- plays Kitten, and while he doesn't make a convincing woman (and I'm not sure if he's meant to), he makes an adorable teen-age lad. His slender frame perfectly suits those early 1970s glam fashions of high-waisted elephant bells and skin-tight poly tops. Pretty to look at, but I soon wearied of his girlish whisper and mannered coquettishness.
This lurid but oddly neutered tale reads as if a dreamy, lonely small-town teen such as Patrick might have imagined his life, but it's asking a lot of us to play along for over two hours. Presented with such meaty topics as sexual identity, the social upheaval of the early 1970s and the ongoing grind of sectarian troubles, we could do with more than Kitten's feckless tumble through life and his touchstone philosophy drawn from Bobby Goldsboro's "Honey."
Ultimately, Jordan's film, like our dear Kitten, just flirts with any substance (you may recall that Jordan's The Crying Game, in 1992, also punted on its combo platter of Republicans and cross-dressers). Breakfast is a curiously asexual meander through an interesting time that finds interest only in a man in a dress burbling in his own sing-song bubble.