A comedy-drama about the killing of the environment, "Stark" has pretensions to grandeur but, directed as a stage farce, it looms overlarge for the small screen, failing both as TV satire and black comedy.

A comedy-drama about the killing of the environment, “Stark” has pretensions to grandeur but, directed as a stage farce, it looms overlarge for the small screen, failing both as TV satire and black comedy.

The telepic is set sometime in the near future, when the Earth is in its death throes from “total toxic overload.” In order to take advantage of the situation and save themselves, “the biggest corporate bastards alive” have mounted a conspiracy in the Australian outback. A mixed assortment of misfits aligns to thwart their plan.

Award-winning British TV writer Ben Elton (“Blackadder”) adapted his own bestselling 1989 novel. Here he also stars as the quintessential nerd, CD, but his thespic range seems confined to rapid eye movement, a downturned mouth and slumped shoulders.

From the same school of ocular over-acting is Jacqueline McKenzie as CD’s gorgeous, pouting obsession, the sexy but celibate Rachel. Colin Friels seems uncomfortable and is wasted as a good-bad tycoon who also lusts after her.

Playing it straight, and thus most effectively, is Derrick O’Connor as Zimmerman, the lethal Vietnam vet rendered impotent from a war wound, while ever-reliable Bill Wallis delivers as a superannuated 1967-vintage hippy.

John Neville clearly enjoyed being Lord de Quincy, the most evil of the conspirators, frequently taking the characterization well over the top (much as he did on the big screen as Baron Munchausen).

While slightly more restraint on the part of the director, Nadia Tass (“Rikki and Pete,””Pure Luck”) might have helped, production values are nonetheless super, with the outback getting plenty of play as the action moves toward its climax.

Any tension, however, is too frequently suspended by polemic speeches. Indeed , the voiceover moral at the end has greater impact than any of the previous 152 minutes.

Stark Parts I & II Wed. Aug. 11, Thurs. Aug 12, 8:30 p.m., Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Production

Filmed in Australia by Cascade Ash Prods./Australian Broadcasting Corp./British Broadcasting Corp. Exec producers, Jill Robb (ABC), Michael Wearing (BBC). Producers, Wearing, David Parker, Timothy White. Associate producer, Eve Ash. Director, Nadia Tass. Writer, Ben Elton, based on his novel, developed for TV in association with Elton McIntyre Entertainments. Photography, David Parker.

Crew

Editor, Ken Sallows; music, Colin Towns; production designer, Laurence Eastwood; art director, Jo Ford; costume designer, Kerri Barnett; visual effects, Dennis Nicholson. 154 MIN.

With

Cast: Colin Friels, Ben Elton, Jacqueline McKenzie, Derrick O'Connor, Deborra-Lee Furness, Bill Wallis, Fiona Press, Bill Hunter, Colette Mann, Gwen Plumb, John Neville.
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