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Coming together Cricket bridges racial tensions in 1960 London

There are no subtitles in "Wondrous Oblivion," but the characters speak a foreign tongue: cricket.

Yes, it's a British film. And it's one of those coming-of-age movies.

Pathetically clumsy, cricket-crazed Jewish kid David (Sam Smith) meets the earnest Jamaican cricket guru who just moved in next door (Delroy Lindo). And David meets the Jamaican guy's daughter (Leonie Elliott).

And the Jamaican dad meets David's mother (Emily Woof).

Relationships ensue.

All of this is amid a racially charged 1960, when the working-class folk around their South London neighborhood aren't too fond of either ethnic group, but especially don't like Jamaicans.

Of course, David learns to love the neighbors even as he blossoms into a cricket phenom under the tutelage of the Jamaican and his daughter. The title references David's cluelessness at the start of the film.

There was potential here for some real fireworks, but somehow everything gets muted with a Britlike sense of restraint.

The soap opera potential of the plot isn't really exploited. The violence -- or threat of it -- never gets as intense as some Hallmark TV specials. The pain, joy and yearning of the main characters rarely extend beyond manageable levels -- and that's only when Lindo and Woof are on screen together.

Perhaps that's why the film, released overseas in 2003, is only making it to American screens now.

That said, the film has its merits -- particularly in an anthropological sense. So that's what cricket is like? I still don't understand the scoring.

And that was what London was like, with its own racial tension at the time the world was watching the United States attempt to deal with its own racial crises?

So English kids collected cigarette cards of cricket players just like American kids with baseball cards? Makes sense, I guess. But I wish it was more engaging, that it felt more real and less like the tea-and-crumpets wishings of director/writer Paul Morris that all ethnic tensions could be defused as simply as with a game of cricket.

Whatever the rules are.

e-mail: eploetz@buffnews.com

***

WONDROUS OBLIVION

2 stars (Out of 4)

STARRING: Sam Smith, Delroy Lindo and Emily Woof

DIRECTOR: Paul Morrison

RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes

RATING: PG for thematic material, some violence, sensuality, language including racial remarks and brief smoking by minors.

THE LOWDOWN: Warm-hearted but low-key story of growing up amid ethnic and racial tension -- and cricket -- in a South London neighborhood in 1960.

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