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Originally published Friday, December 23, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Pluto": The crying, laughing and self-discovery game

Director Neil Jordan's history of choosing such a range of material may never have served him better than with "Breakfast on Pluto. " This breezily moving...

Special to The Seattle Times

Director Neil Jordan's history of choosing such a range of material may never have served him better than with "Breakfast on Pluto." This breezily moving picaresque yarn is quite different than "The Butcher Boy," Jordan's first collaboration with novelist Patrick McCabe, but just as reflective. "Pluto's" story of a boy and his oddball odyssey is as sweetly slight as it is subtlety profound, faltering only when it lets its sometimes too fanciful nature off the leash.

Cillian Murphy is hands-down the reason for most of its success in his role as Patrick "Kitten" Braden. Murphy has been popping up all over the place in movies on both sides of the Atlantic as calculating psychopaths ("Batman Begins," "Red Eye") and befuddled everymen ("28 Days Later," "Cold Mountain").

Here he plays a quixotic transvestite on the cusp of the '60s and '70s who wanders small-town Northern Ireland and the back streets of London searching for the mother who left him as an infant with the local priest (Liam Neeson). Though Murphy plays fey with a capital "F," his performance is so naturally in balance with his unusually cherubic manner that it never seems affected. His quest as Kitten is unexpectedly touching and loaded with self-effacing humor.

Movie review 3 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"Breakfast on Pluto," with Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Stephen Rea, Brendan Gleeson, Ruth Negga, Gavin Friday. Directed by Neil Jordan, from a screenplay by Jordan and Patrick McCabe, based on the novel by McCabe. 135 minutes. Rated R for sexuality, language, some violence and drug use. Varsity.

The mother, whom Kitten describes to himself as "the Phantom Lady," is what Hitchcock would have called the MacGuffin: a meaningless device to keep the story moving. The period details of character and place are what's really important. They include the birth of hippiedom, hustling and grizzly facets of Northern Ireland's "Troubles," which sometimes crash together in shocking juxtaposition.

The story is quite literally episodic, told in 36 titled vignettes that give Kitten's voyage a touch of "David Copperfield." Considering all the varied characters that come and go with such abandon, the Dickensian analogy becomes even more appropriate as the anecdotes add up to the movie's greater whole.

One of the notable eccentrics that cross Kitten's path is Stephen Rea as a caring, two-bit showbiz conjurer who takes Kitten under his wing as a shill. He also takes a shine to the boy in much the way he did to Dil in Jordan's "The Crying Game."

Other nifty personalities that quickly pop up and out are Brendan Gleeson (in a ridiculous animal suit) and Gavin Friday as a glam rocker with a gentle crush on Kitten as well as some not-so-gentle ties to the Irish Republican Army. Former Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry also makes a cameo as a creepy sleazeball.

Held together by a brilliant fiber of obscure pop songs from the era, "Breakfast on Pluto" may be Jordan's most agreeable mixture of wisdom and whimsy.

Ted Fry:

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