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Monday, 14 January 2002

The Nugget

Aussie films are a lot easier to enjoy in theory than in practice. Case in point: The Nugget. In theory, this should be a winner. It's written and directed by Bill (Kiss or Kill) Bennett, it stars such heavy hitters of the local comedy scene as Stephen Curry and Dave O'Neil, and then there's the little matter of latest local-boy-makes-good success story Eric Bana taking the lead. Even the story sounds okay: three country town road workers - the unlucky Lotto (Bana), the super-lazy Sue (Dave O'Neil), and Wookie (Curry), so named because he claims to have once seen a Wookie in his back yard - like to spend their weekends away from it all 'prospecting' (that is, drinking beer) out on an old goldmining site. So when they stumble across the biggest gold nugget ever found, they rather stupidly figure they'll just hide it under Lotto's backyard and then try and buy up all the mining leases in the neighbourhood in case there's even more gold in them thar hills. Local sleazebag Ratner (Peter Moon) has other ideas, even as the trio's friendship starts to come apart under the stress of that much sudden wealth, and it's not long before they find themselves in a bigger hole than the one they dug to hide the nugget in. So far so good, especially with the three main leads all giving likeable (and very Aussie) performances. But this just isn't that funny. Okay, there are a few good gags here and there (and one, where a creepy old prospector - played by Max Cullen - says he'll sell his lease for 'the lives of the one you love the most' and then laughs hysterically for a good two minutes, is a classic), but otherwise this is a big collection of moments best described as 'nice'. The story isn't exactly a dramatic one either, and what twists there are aren't difficult to see coming. It's being promoted as a fable, and it works as one - but fables aren't all that funny, and they don't make for compelling viewing either.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #283)

Dirty Deeds

Noble failure isn't really a description that comes up too often when describing Australian films. Usually if a local product stinks, it stinks so badly it closes the cinema down for fumigation. Dirty Deeds is nowhere near that bad; it's just that it's never quite as good as it should be. The year is 1969, and the original AC/DC version of the title track is playing (close to a decade before it was recorded) as Barry Ryan (Bryan Brown) and his Sydney crime crew smash up an illegal back room pokies joint. Not because they're police, mind you - Ryan runs the casinos in Sydney, and his chief rival Freddie (Gary Waddell) just needed a little reminder of that. Meanwhile, Ryan's nephew Darcy (Sam Worthington) has just finished his tour of duty in Vietnam and has flown into Sydney looking for a job. Ryan's more than happy to show him the ropes, as well as his wife Sharon (Toni Colette) and his mistress Margaret (Kestie Morassi), who ends up being Darcy's next-door neighbour. If it wasn't bad enough that Freddie won't take no for an answer, leading to an attempted hit on Darcy that doesn't sit well with crooked cop Ray (Sam Neill), two Chicago mobsters have flown into town with expansion on their minds. Ryan decides to try and get on the good side of Tony (John Goodman) and Sal (Felix Williamson) with a big party, but when he knocks back their offer to buy him out, everyone knows that trouble's brewing. Well, everyone but Darcy, who's too busy falling for Margaret to realise exactly how much danger he's putting himself in... This ends up being a pretty good re-creation of 60's Sydney for the money, but that's the only real success here: under-written characters and the occasional flat performance mean this attempt at a large-scale crime drama never really takes off. The huge range of double-dealings that fill the film's second half never really go anywhere, and while it is fast-paced and stylish enough to ensure that this effort by writer / director David Caesar is never boring, it never comes together as a complete success either. See Dirty Deeds on the cheap.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #277)