'The Guard' 

And here it is, only it’s called “The Guard.” I call it darkly funny.

The Irish crime comedy opens Friday exclusively at AMC Quail Springs Mall 24, 2501 W. Memorial.

Brendan Gleeson (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”) relishes every drop of his juicy title role as Sgt. Gerry Boyle, a guy who’s risen so high up in the police force, he’s long given up caring, which shows in his lackadaisical and lascivious behavior.

While on duty, he drops ecstasy he takes from the pocket of a car-crash fatality; he fiddles with evidence at a murder scene; he’s outwardly racist at department meetings (“I thought only black lads were drug dealers ... and Mexicans”); he solicits the pleasures of prostitutes, rather than arresting them.

As offended FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle, “Iron Man 2”) relays with sincerity, “I can’t tell if you’re really motherfuckin’ dumb, or really motherfuckin’ smart.”

Neither can the viewer for certain, which is part of the fun.

The well-to-do agent Everett has come to Ireland in hopes of cracking open an international drug-smuggling ring, headed by the swarthy Clive Cornell (Mark Strong, “Green Lantern”). As Everett briefs the Irish police, the FBI is chasing a ship that’s gone missing from the Dominican Republic and is rumored to be transporting $500 million of cocaine — “half a billion,” corrects the local inspector.

With the ambivalent Boyle teamed to aid the all-business Everett, the fun and games begin; Boyle is the Mel Gibson to Everett’s Danny Glover, the Eddie Murphy to his Nick Nolte, the Chris Tucker to his Jackie Chan. See a pattern? In essence, “The Guard” is the Emerald Isle’s answer to Hollywood’s buddy-cop movie.

Although its sense of dark humor — somewhere around “jet black” on the Just for Men shampoo-in haircolor scale — remains intact, “The Guard” gets more serious in its back half as Cornell’s criminal enterprise slowly chips away at Boyle’s detatched nature. When a fellow cop gets killed, and his widow comes to Boyle in tears, he realizes he can’t play the aloof card forever.

Gleeson earns the “glee” in his last name by inhabiting this blasé creature. The character is unlikable, but the actor damned lovable for his conviction. It takes a brave man — especially as one as overweight as he — to appear onscreen wearing cherry-red tighty-whities. Gerry is the busy actor’s meatiest role since 2008’s “In Bruges,” which, incidentally, was written and directed by the brother of “The Guard”’s debuting writer/director, John Michael McDonagh.

Smart scripts must run in the family.

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Rod Lott

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