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'Pluto' has flair but seems endless

Neil Jordan, the director of ''The Crying Game" and ''Interview With the Vampire," has an appetite for carnal perversity. He also has a sense of humor about lust and sexuality that can keep even the weightiest outing from turning gravely serious.

Happily, we can add ''Breakfast on Pluto" to the Jordan collection. Based on a novel by Patrick McCabe, it's the story of Patrick Braden (Cillian Murphy), a gay Irish orphan and flawless cross-dresser who prefers to be called ''Kitten." In the novel, his nickname is a dirtier synonym, but this less vulgar redaction is apt nonetheless: Murphy's delicate performance is one long purr.

The film is set mostly at the dawn of 1970s glam rock and during the second phase of the Troubles. This is not exactly an intuitive thematic coupling, but if it's going to work, Jordan (who wrote the script with McCabe) is the man to pull it off. Certainly on the fashion front, the movie is a success. This is one of Jordan's most vivid productions, and Murphy is an ideal mannequin for Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh's florid costumes.

The movie begins during Patrick's childhood in a fictional burg. The boy's active imagination (he daydreams of playing rugby in an evening gown) extends to Jordan's filmmaking: Little digitized birds gossip aloud about his mysterious parentage. Perhaps his father is the local priest (Liam Neeson); his mother, he hears, is a ringer for Mitzi Gaynor. Patrick spends the movie searching for her, leaving no stone unturned in a quest that lands him in adventures both dopey and serious.

He winds up in a rockabilly glam band whose singer, a swaggering brute called Billy Hatchet (Gavin Friday), is taken with him. Jordan has fun with the relationship's comedy: Billy's band mates are forlorn with confusion. Onstage, Patrick proves too sincerely glam for the group and, after a few too many jeering audiences, is promptly demoted to Billy's hausfrau and hidden away in a remote trailer.

As it happens, Billy is a gunrunner for the IRA, and Patrick is living with a cache of artillery beneath the floor. He thinks nothing of it until one of his best mates perishes in a bombing and another joins the IRA, stoking in Patrick a political righteousness that inspires him to throw away the guns, and, as a consequence, his boyfriend, too.

Eventually, Patrick resumes his search for mom in London, where he gets mixed up in further shenanigans, including a stint with a wonderfully foul Brendan Gleeson as a costumed creature at a kiddie theme park. Stephen Rea and Bryan Ferry also show up. Patrick finds work at a peep show, discovers his biological father, and is investigated for possibly bombing a disco. The sequence is reenacted as a coy spy flick, in which Patrick sports hair and a trench coat that suggest what Madonna would be like in a Brian De Palma thriller.

''Breakfast on Pluto" ambles along nicely, but feels as if it's never going to end. Jordan is so deeply in his element (the movie echoes his 1997 ''The Butcher Boy") that it often plays like a series of vacation postcards: Having a great time, wish you were here! The story, in fact, is told in chapters (well over a dozen) that disrupt the emotional and dramatic progress. It's a structural choice meant, presumably, to be novelistic, but it feels like a preview for the DVD.

Ultimately, Patrick is too frail and alien to support so much earthbound activity. The character's clothes change often, but he doesn't deepen very much, so Murphy is required to hit the same twee note for the whole picture, like a doll from a distant planet. Like Pluto.

Wesley Morris can be reached at

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