Olympia Dukakis gives a game performance as a 60-year-old widow from Bar Harbor, Maine, who discovers a new life in the Australian outback, but the film in which she toplines doesn't deliver the goods. Spectacular photography of varied Australian landscapes is wasted on a thin, unconvincing vehicle.

Olympia Dukakis gives a game performance as a 60-year-old widow from Bar Harbor, Maine, who discovers a new life in the Australian outback, but the film in which she toplines doesn’t deliver the goods. Spectacular photography of varied Australian landscapes is wasted on a thin, unconvincing vehicle.

The screenplay of “Over the Hill” was suggested by a book by a Canadian, Gladys Taylor. The original concept promised a more feminist slant than the pic delivers: Prominent Aussie screenwriter Eleanor Witcombe (“My Brilliant Career”) penned an early draft, and Nadia Tass (“Malcolm,””Pure Luck”) originally was announced as the pic’s director. In the completed film, the screenplay is credited solely to Robert Caswell, but it’s difficult to reconcile his undistinguished work here with his screenplays for “A Cry in the Dark” and “The Doctor.”

George Miller (the “Neverending Story 2″ helmer, not the “Mad Max” George Miller) does a routine job with the material.

Pic opens in wintry Bar Harbor, where Alma (Dukakis) lives with her policeman son and his family. On a whim, she visits her daughter in Sydney in summer, to discover that the daughter (Aussie thesp Sigrid Thornton with a Yank accent) is one of Australia’s “best-dressed women” and is married to a politico in the middle of an election campaign. Feeling unwanted, Alma borrows a brightly colored 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air from her granddaughter’s boyfriend and sets off for Melbourne, though she’s never driven on the left side of the road before.

She never gets to Melbourne, instead experiencing various outback adventures. She befriends an easygoing married couple (Steve Bisley, Andrea Moor), who turn out to be con artists, and gets a job at a remote desert store, where the lonely owner (Bill Kerr) takes a shine to her.

She also joins in an aboriginal ceremony in which she has a vision of her daughter, trapped, like a dolphin, in a net (this is the cue for Dukakis to go topless when she allows the aborigines to paint her breast), and finds romance with a 60-ish retired dentist (Derek Fowlds) driving around the country in a well-equipped camper van. She also manages to sort out the lives of both daughter and granddaughter via a couple of glib confrontations that smack of sitcom scripting.

Though Dukakis gives the Alma character her best shot, she can’t overcome the thin concept. Unfortunately, there’s little on-screen empathy for the character. As her ungrateful daughter, Thornton (who worked well with director Miller on “The Man From Snowy River”) looks lovely but is stuck with a shrill, shrewish character.

Fowlds, from the British TV series “Yes Minister,” seems a bit bemused by it all in his early scenes but eventually settles into the role. Aussie thesps in support roles fare better, especially Kerr, touching as the lonely storekeeper, and Bisley as a likable rogue. Aden Young (“Black Robe”) has a nothing role here as the granddaughter’s b.f.

Pic’s real star is the Aussie countryside, lovingly shot in lush wide-screen images by David Connell: From the dusty outback to glorious-looking beaches, from Sydney to the Red Heart, the film, like its leading character, travels a lot of ground. Still, Alma’s trip doesn’t make too much sense in terms of the geography of the country.

One of the problems inherent in Caswell’s screenplay is the reliance on coincidence in the setting-up of several key encounter scenes. Also, the dialogue lacks sharpness and wit.

In the end, Alma’s journey of liberation doesn’t communicate to the audience the good vibes that it should. Chalk this pic up as a disappointment, albeit a beautiful one.

Over the Hill

(Australian--Drama--Color)

Production

A Greater Union Distributors (Australia) release of a Village Roadshow Pictures presentation of a Glasshouse Pictures production in association with the Rank Organisation and Australian Film Finance Corp. Executive producers, Gregory Coote, Graham Burke. Produced by Robert Caswell, Bernard Terry. Directed by George Miller. Screenplay, Caswell, based on Gladys Taylor's book "Alone in the Australian Wilderness."

Crew

Camera (Panavision, color), David Connell; editor, Henry Dangar; music, David McHugh; production design, Graham (Grace) Walker; sound, Gary Wilkins; line producer, Ross Matthews; associate producer, Liz Strout; assistant director, Chris Webb; casting, Liz Mullinar. Reviewed at Village Cinema City 2, Sydney, April 30, 1992. (In Cannes Film Festival market.) Running time: 99 min.

With

Alma Harris ... Olympia Dukakis Elizabeth ... Sigrid Thornton Dutch ... Derek Fowlds Maurio ... Bill Kerr Benedict ... Steve Bisley Jan ... Andrea Moor Margaret ... Pippa Grandison Forbes ... Martin Jacobs Nick ... Aden Young Hank ... Gerry Connolly Hank's wife ... Jenny Williams TV reporter ... Anne Looby
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