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)