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Tuesday, 14 January 2003

The Wannabes

It's no big secret that film reviewers often get to see movies at special preview screenings, usually held in small screening theatrettes that hold maybe twenty or thirty people at most. Makers of local comedies often complain that a small audience of film critics isn't exactly the best-way to see a mainstream crowd-pleasing comedy. So I'm here to say that I saw The Wannabes the way just about everyone else can: at a crowded lunchtime screening during the school holidays. And it still wasn't funny. To be fair, there were only two walkouts, but the film's biggest laugh was when a character was accidentally hit in the groin - and they're giving that stuff away for free on Australia's Funniest Home Videos. The laugh-free zone begins with eight year-old Danny being scarred for life after getting a massive thumbs down on Rising Stars 78. He then grows up into the movie's writer / director / producer Nick Giannopoulos, a so-so dance instructor who gets hired by a collection of very dodgy types including Marcus (Russell Dykstra), Hammer (Ryan Johnson) and Stewie (Tony Nikolalopoulos) to turn them into a Wiggles-style children's group for an upcoming fancy kid's party. Danny says no - until he sees Marcus' cute sister Kirsty (Isla Fisher). It fairly quickly turns out that the guys don't want to entertain kids at all: it's just a front so they can rob the mansion where the party's at. Then things go wrong - and yet somehow right, as their group (called The Wannabes) turns their clumsy and crude antics into a smash hit. But their criminal past isn't done with them yet... Okay, so it's not funny - and that's not funny AT ALL not funny - and the acting is more wooden than a pine plantation, and the characters don't really make a lot of sense, and Giannopoulos gives himself the only character with even two dimensions without realising that a condescending idiot doesn't really work as a sympathetic lead, and the plot manages to be way more complicated than a movie about crude kid's entertainers needs to be, but... well, that's pretty much it. But let's end on a positive note: at least The Wannabes isn't amazingly, mind-numbingly, teeth-grindly boring.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #308)

Perfect Strangers

First, the bad news: Perfect Strangers isn’t the long-awaited big-screen version of that similarly-titled mid-80s sitcom about a wacky immigrant. Instead, it’s the story of Melanie (Rachael Blake), who lives a fairly grey life centred on her job at a New Zealand fish’n chip shop. So when a boozy pick-up night down the local pub with her mates ends with her scoring a handsome stranger (Sam Neill), it looks like she’s on to a good thing. They go back to his place (a fishing boat), she passes out, and when she wakes up he’s taken her away to a remote and deserted island. And that’s far from the last time the romantic and the creepy are mixed here. This film’s greatest asset is also it’s weakest point: it’s not afraid to take an idea and run with it. The first third of this movie looks like your usual Hollywood thriller, so it’s an enjoyable surprise when some twists takes the story to strange new places. But one person’s strange new place is another’s over-the-top mess (it could’ve been titled The Curse of Zombie Island), and here the line between the two is so fine it’s difficult to know which side this film falls on. Solid performances from Blake and Neill keep the over-the-top plot at least slightly grounded; the result is a haunting film in more ways than one.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #309)

Gettin' Square

It's one thing to spice up movie dialogue with some snappy phrases; it's another to rely on one phrase so often that a game based on having a drink every time someone says it would result in everyone taking part slipping into an alcoholic coma before the half hour mark. And when that phrase also happens to be the title of the movie - and we all know how great it is when a character says the title of the movie - you've got a blunder so big it threatens to overshadow what could have been a decent crime thriller. The words "I'm gettin' square" or "I'm square" (meaning they've turned their back on crime) haven't had this good a workout since the fifties, and blind viewers would be forgiven for thinking they'd stumbled into a movie about a bunch of beatniks turning their backs on the hipster life in favour of conformity and the quarter-acre block. The story itself is your usual confused mess about a collection of colourful crime characters (this time based around Surfer's Paradise), as our nominal hero Barry Wirth (Sam Worthington) gets out of jail and tries to go straight, while his junkie mate Spit (David Wenham) keeps messing up, former crime boss turned restaurant owner Dabba (Tim Spall) has to cope with a tax investigation and losing weight, parole office Annie (Freya Stafford) wanders around, and crime lord Chicka (Gary Sweet) and his crooked cop buddy (David Field) are out to ruin everyone's fun. Whining scuzzball Spit is definitely the film's highlight, and Wenham steals every scene he's in. Problem is, having such a minor character become such a laugh-getter throws the whole movie off balance. And when there wasn't much balance there to begin with - it's the kind of Snatch-style knock-off that only works so long as it keeps moving fast - you end up with a film that's little more than a collection of fun but forgettable moments.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #309)