Review: ‘Metal Skin’

This look at young down-and-outers living an Australian industrial-park nightmare is so overwrought and unrelievedly grim that it comes close to playing like a parody of teenage angst movies. Goosed up with car-smashing violence, Satanism and plenty of fancy editing tricks, Geoffrey Wright's follow-up to his controversial 1992 "Romper Stomper" sports the sort of fashionably nihilistic gear to put it over with a certain segment of hip young moviegoers, but its lack of appeal on virtually all aesthetic levels will mostly limit its commercial prospects to a hard-core heavy-metal and leather set.

This look at young down-and-outers living an Australian industrial-park nightmare is so overwrought and unrelievedly grim that it comes close to playing like a parody of teenage angst movies. Goosed up with car-smashing violence, Satanism and plenty of fancy editing tricks, Geoffrey Wright’s follow-up to his controversial 1992 “Romper Stomper” sports the sort of fashionably nihilistic gear to put it over with a certain segment of hip young moviegoers, but its lack of appeal on virtually all aesthetic levels will mostly limit its commercial prospects to a hard-core heavy-metal and leather set.

Joe (Aden Young) represents perhaps the extreme definition of an underprivileged kid: Unemployed for four years, he lives in a squalid home on the barren outskirts of Melbourne that’s half-shack, half-fortress, with a lunatic father whose only companion is a shrieking parrot. Joe shows signs of sensitivity in his feelings for the cute but guarded Roslyn (Nadine Garner), but he never gets anywhere with either her or Savina (Tara Morice), a co-worker at his new job at a grocery store, because local Romeo Dazey (Ben Mendelsohn) has in both cases gotten there first.

Nevertheless, the smooth Dazey takes Joe under his wing after a fashion, showing him the racing cars at his dad’s shop and hanging out with him at an illicit latenight drag race. This sequence reps the film’s major set piece, as hundreds of tough-acting teens gather in an abandoned rail yard to see who’s got the hottest rod. Unfortunately, the evening doesn’t go well for Joe, who’s beaten behind the wheel and smashes up the car of the gathering’s biggest maniac , who labels him “Psycho Joe.”

Meanwhile, Savina puts a voodoo hex on Dazey for spurning her, and Joe tries to take advantage of Savina’s vulnerability by being nice to her, but it all backfires in tragedy when she takes her devil worship to a fatal extreme.

When Joe’s house then gets trashed, the youngster becomes unhinged and undertakes a shooting spree that threatens Dazey, his family and Roslyn. A less-than-convincing metal-on-metal battle between the two kids in hot rods brings things to an unedifying end.

Wright works overtime trying to supply the film with the kind of blindly destructive visceral force that’s de rigueur these days for stories of angry, alienated youth, relying upon jump cuts within the frame to speed up the action and tossing in lots of violent rage and engine revving.

But only the two male characters, Joe and Dazey, are remotely interesting and , unfortunately, the more Wright chooses to concentrate upon Joe and his many problems, the more ordinary and less interesting he becomes; conversely, just as Dazey begins seeming more complex, the less is seen of him.

As for the females, Roslyn remains a one-dimensional object of the boys’ desire, while Savina, with her sullen temper and unabated appetite for demonism, is a royal pain throughout.

Despite the hyped-up technique, aggressive style becomes trying after a while , and pacing through the midsection is sluggish. Some trimming wouldn’t hurt a bit. Tech credits are serviceable.

Metal Skin

(AUSTRALIAN)

Production

A Daniel Scharf Prods. presentation. (International sales: Southern Star Film Sales, L.A.) Produced by Scharf. Line producer, Elisa Argenzio. Directed, written by Geoffrey Wright.

Crew

Camera (Cinevex Film Lab color; widescreen), Ron Hagen; editors, Bill Murphy, Jane Usher; music, John Clifford White; production design, Steven Jones-Evans; art direction, Graham Blackmore; costume design, Anna Borghesi; sound (Dolby), David Lee; sound design, Frank Lipson; associate producer, Jonathan Shteinman; assistant director, Chris Odgers; casting, Prototype Casting, Greg Apps. Reviewed at Raleigh Studios, L.A., Aug. 30, 1994. (In Venice, Toronto fests.) Running time: 115 MIN.

With

Joe ... Aden Young Savina ... Tara Morice Roslyn ...Nadine Garner Dazey ... Ben Mendelsohn Savina's Mother ... Chantal Contouri Pop ... Petru Gheorghiu
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