The team responsible for "Frontline," a popular Aussie TV show that satirizes current-affairs programs, has segued into feature film production with this ultra-low-budget comedy. "The Castle" has received mostly glowing reviews, and a canny marketing campaign should ensure that what's basically a sitcom will open strongly Down Under.

The team responsible for “Frontline,” a popular Aussie TV show that satirizes current-affairs programs, has segued into feature film production with this ultra-low-budget comedy. “The Castle” has received mostly glowing reviews, and a canny marketing campaign should ensure that what’s basically a sitcom will open strongly Down Under. But little overseas interest can be expected for this narrowly focused local effort.

This labor of love, which received no support from any government funding body, does possess some endearing, and quintessentially Australian, elements. Unfortunately, what works on TV rarely works in the cinema unless a comprehensive rethinking has taken place, and “The Castle” is firmly rooted in a small-screen mindset.

Set in the Melbourne suburbs, pic intros the Kerrigan family, who live near the city’s airport and love it. Dad, Darryl (Michael Caton), a tow-truck driver with limited horizons, seems to have stepped out of one of the venerable “Dad and Dave” comedies that amused Aussie audiences 60 years ago. Mum, Sal (Anne Tenney), delights her family with her supposedly creative cooking and her expertise at crafts, although her talents are clearly modest in both departments.

Eldest son Wayne (Wayne Hope) is in prison for armed robbery, but his family thinks the world of him. Middle son Steve (Anthony Simcoe) is obsessed with buying and selling useless junk via a trading paper. Dale (Stephen Curry), who narrates the film, seems a bit simple-minded. Darryl is absurdly proud of daughter Tracey (Sophie Lee) because she’s the only member of the family to have received a diploma — as a hairdresser; she marries Con (Eric Bana), a kickboxer.

Plot revolves around the Kerrigans and their neighbors being ordered to leave their homes in order to make way for airport extensions. Darryl won’t consider leaving his “castle,” and hires an incompetent attorney (Tiriel Mora) to represent him. The filmmakers appear to be trying to establish the Kerrigans as “typical” working-class/small-business Australians, and clearly have plenty of affection for these simple characters. But this throwback to a school of comedy from another era, and a rather patronizing one at that, seems a curious choice for a feature film in the late ’90s. If ever there was a low concept, “The Castle” is it.

Caton adroitly inhabits the character of the absurdly optimistic Darryl, but though it’s a solid performance, the character will, for many viewers, be irritatingly inept rather than intrinsically heroic. Some of the better scenes are those involving vet Charles (Bud) Tingwell, who plays a retired barrister who unaccountably offers to help the beleaguered Kerrigans, free of charge; thesp brings a welcome touch of sophistication to the proceedings.

“The Castle” is particularly disappointing because “Frontline” is a cutting-edge TV comedy with a large following, and recent Aussie micro-budgeted films, like “Love and Other Catastrophes,” have demonstrated it’s possible to be creative with rock-bottom resources. Film crew‘s lack of expertise in cinema is evident, and is likely to deter all but the most indulgent from enjoying the film’s very specific humor.

Script, direction and many of the supporting performances are perfunctory. Camerawork is flat; pic has been blown up from Super 16mm, and looks muddy and grainy. The music score, which might have helped lift the material, also disappoints.

The Castle

Australian

Production

A Roadshow (Australia) release of a Village Roadshow/Working Dog presentation of a Frontline TV production. (Intl. Sales: Roadshow Intl., Los Angeles.) Produced by Debra Choate. Executive producer, Michael Hirsh. Directed by Rob Sitch. Screenplay, Sitch, Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy.

With

Darryl Kerrigan - Michael Caton
Sal Kerrigan - Anne Tenney
Tracey - Sophie Lee
Steve - Anthony Simcoe
Dale - Stephen Curry
Wayne - Wayne Hope
Con Petropoulos - Eric Bana
Dennis Denuto - Tiriel Mora
Lawrence Hammill - Charles (Bud) Tingwell
Federal Court Judge - Robyn Nevin
Farouk - Costas Kilias
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