Born losers who refuse to lose. An Irish comedy now on screens in America is one of the summer's happiest surprises. It's a motorcycle movie with a gentle feel, and it captures the earthy flavor of rural, working-class life with intelligence, empathy, and a resolute lack of condescension.

`EAT THE PEACH' is the best motorcycle movie since ``Easy Rider,'' and the funniest ever. It's also the gentlest - a quality not found in the average motorcycle epic. Vinnie and Arthur, the heroes of this modest Irish production, are young men living in a damp, depressed, and rather boggy little corner of the not-so-emerald isle. Work is scarce, and there's little to do but while away the hours in a pub.

These two are dreamers, though, and it doesn't take much to stir their fancy. During a dreary session at the pub, Arthur notices an old Elvis Presley movie on the TV set. In it, the star is defying death in a carnival act - zooming a motorcycle around the inside of a large vertical drum.

Arthur happens to own a motorcycle, although it's a pint-sized three-wheeler that doesn't look very macho. Vinnie has a slightly more impressive model of his own. A scene or two later, they're building their own ``Great Wall of Death'' and preparing to welcome the fame and fortune that show-biz bravery will surely bring them.

Sustained by friendship and a dream

I won't give away the outcome of this quixotic project. What matters in ``Eat the Peach'' isn't the plot, anyway, but the characters and the moody Irish landscapes that echo the bittersweet tone of their lives. They're born losers who refuse to lose, no matter how many bad breaks invade their muddy backyard. Their spirits may dim and the roof may literally cave in over their heads. But they always have their dreams and their friendship, and that's plenty to sustain them over the long haul.

Not that ``Eat the Peach'' is sentimental or schmaltzy. Vinnie and Arthur are scamps as well as visionaries, and they don't mind a detour into the underworld if it will fund their fantasies. In a nimble subplot, they go to work for a local smuggler, crossing the paths of bona fide thugs and even the IRA, in a scene that's as hilarious as it is topical. They also have an entertaining band of sidekicks and companions, ranging from Vinnie's long-suffering wife to a self-promoting friend with an American accent that's as phony as most of his hustling schemes.

Demme brought film Stateside

``Eat the Peach'' probably wouldn't have crossed the Atlantic without help from Jonathan Demme, the talented New York-based director of ``Swimming to Cambodia'' and ``Stop Making Sense,'' to name his most offbeat films. In pictures like ``Melvin and Howard'' and ``Something Wild,'' he has shown great imagination in exploring the tacky, aggressively humdrum side of today's consumer culture that most movies do their best to dodge.

It's easy to see why Mr. Demme liked ``Eat the Peach.'' Peter Ormrod, the director, has a similar knack for surrounding his characters with environments that reflect the best and worst in their own personalities.

More important, he has enormous compassion for the people he portrays so poignantly. Except for the brilliant ``Local Hero,'' a Scottish film that has many similarities with this Irish one, I can't remember a movie that captures the earthy flavor of rural, working-class life with more intelligence and empathy, and with such a resolute lack of condescension.

Mr. Ormrod cares tremendously about Vinnie, his friends, and his family. He shows this in the attention he pays to small but rich details, which lend spice and color to scene after scene - the sound of a song, the nighttime sky, the thunderstruck look on a little girl's face when her daddy's dreams explode in ways she never dreamed could happen.

Touches like these are what make ``Eat the Peach'' one of the summer's happiest surprises. It's a small film - a tiny one, even. But it glows.

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