Despite the Aussie-sounding title, ambitious SoCal pic is a fitfully funny mock docu that starts with a great premise – Christian high-schoolers on a particularly trying wilderness trek – and then outstays its welcome by about 45 minutes. Smart editing could afford it some specialized play, a la last year’s “Dadetown,” but best prospect is still tubeland, where its conceit will play out in its most convincing fashion.
First-time filmmaker Martin David rounds up a bunch of church-school students, dumps them off in a California forest, and then watches their true characters emerge. Even in this literally Bible-toting crowd, there are some basic teen types: the snobby girl who won’t eat meat (Tyme Jasso), the jock who turns into a bully (Tommy Stork), the nerdy future preacher whose faith is sorely shaken (Eric Sachs) and, best of all, the Sean Penn–like surfer dude (Kenny Luper) with mock-sincere comments on absolutely everything.
As the students’ obstacles grow progressively bigger – their pastor is bitten by a snake, their crusty trail boss is mauled by a wild animal, and then they run out of candy bars – the movie gets funnier, but David doesn’t know when to quit. He puts far too much of himself, as an exploitative, ciggy-puffing documaker, into the scenes (is there anything more disingenuous than the media blaming the media?), and there is repetition and indulgence of every other stripe, too. Some subplots make no sense, as when some inner-city kids, on a similar survival quest, join the Bible-thumpers and then suddenly disappear, without the slightest explanation offered.
Tech credits are rough and almost ready, in keeping with ragtag docu feel. Performances from the “kids” are first-rate (especially from the deadpan Luper); the adults are less thrilling. Finally, at 132 minutes, “Walkabout” is just too long, and too impressed with itself to sustain the viewer’s goodwill. Judicious pruning – often a problem when the helmer wields the scissors (and steps in front of the camera) – could concentrate the sharpest material and help restore pic’s satiric intentions.