Living up to the weirdness of its title, "Welcome to Woop Woop" is a uniquely off-the-wall comedy that has the nature of an elaborate private joke played out on a lavish scale. Highly peculiar rather than outright funny, Stephan Elliott's first outing since "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" displays his trademark outrageous humor, energy and tackily florid visuals and will fascinate and entertain those who manage to tune into his strange wavelength here. This also has to be one of the most intensely Australian films ever made, but one which, paradoxically, many Australians may take as an insult. B.O. prospects look dicey. This is another Aussie picture, after "Priscilla" and "Muriel's Wedding," for starters, that makes affectionately camp use of pop tunes of yesteryear, in this case the classic show music of Rodgers & Hammerstein. Elliott repeatedly overlays the most scabrous, vulgar behavior with the likes of "Climb Every Mountain" and "You'll Never Walk Alone," creating a pronounced sense of artistic dislocation on top of an already extreme situation. Connoisseurs of oddball cultural phenomena will be endlessly engrossed; the majority will be left gaping in bewilderment.

Literally explosive opening in midtown Manhattan shows a busted criminal deal concerning some rare Australian cockatoos concluding in dozens of New Yorkers pulling pistols and firing into the air at the fleeing birds.

Getting as far away from the scene of the crime as possible, good-looking Yank perpetrator Teddy (Jonathon Schaech) is next seen tooling through “Priscilla” territory in the Aussie outback. Accosted by weirdos at a gas stop, he passively agrees to give a lift to a brash young blonde, Angie (Susie Porter), who almost immediately jumps his bones (to the accompaniment of “There Is Nothing Like a Dame” from “South Pacific”), then knocks him out in order to kidnap him to her native Woop Woop.

Titular town is vile in the extreme, an off-the-map former home to an asbestos mine — now devoted to making dog food from kangaroos — which is populated by beer-guzzling, profanity-spewing, violence-prone rednecks with a pronounced soft spot for the works of Rodgers & Hammerstein (they run “The Sound of Music” and “South Pacific” constantly at night in a makeshift drive-in).

Teddy is kept a virtual prisoner and sex slave at home by Angie, who informs him that they have been married during his drugged-out stupor, and her bellicose father (an unrecognizable Rod Taylor) lets the newcomer know in no uncertain terms that he should not even think about trying to escape. Once Elliott shows Woop Woop from an aerial shot, revealing that the town is surrounded on all sides by huge rocks, it becomes clear that he intends it to be a symbolic stand-in for Australia itself, and its denizens a microcosm of its population.

Narrative goes rather slack as Teddy tries to calculate a way out, with his efforts increasingly concentrated on an alliance with Angie’s much more serious sister, Krystal (Dee Smart). Through this middle section, Elliott devotes himself to a sometimes funny, mostly exceedingly arcane detailing of what he seems to view as crude and uniquely Australian behavior concerning sex, boozing, animals, guns and death.

Admittedly, sight of these yobbos carrying on is pretty disagreeable to watch, and from a conventional narrative p.o.v., nothing much happens during long middle section of the film; some viewers may also turn off, never to recover, at the sight of loads of kangaroo corpses being dumped into piles and ground into dinner for Fido (usual final title to the effect that no animals were harmed during the making of the picture will be too little too late for these folks). Indeed, film overall seems to represent a gesture of monumental impudence, a giant flipping of the bird by Elliott to his countrymen. Or it could be read as a nightmarish version of “The Wizard of Oz.”

Pic’s outrageousness reaches its peak in a scene in which the beer-can-festooned corpse of Angie’s mother, who is characterized throughout largely through her extreme case of flatulence, is carried in a nocturnal funeral procession and deposited on top of an immense garbage heap, which is then set afire — all to the accompaniment of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Elliott’s delirious imagination knows few bounds, but it is not employed here in a way that will be appreciated by mainstream viewers.

Climax naturally involves Teddy’s desperate escape attempt (“Climb Every Mountain” comes in handy here), which involves an encounter with a giant, special-effects-generated kangaroo named the Big Red (pic’s original title). Film was shown officially in Cannes as a work-in-progress, and only element that could actually use a little extra work is this big roo; front and end credits, and all music, appear finished and intact.

Performances are energetically down and dirty, with Schaech, from Gregg Araki’s “The Doom Generation,” proving himself an engaging lead and the Aussies all weighing in with vigorous, deliberately over-the-top perfs. Tech credits are first-rate, notably Mike Molloy’s lustrous lensing and Owen Paterson’s wild production design. And, of course, the soundtrack-full of Rodgers & Hammerstein tunes.

Welcome to Woop Woop

Australian-British

Production

A Metromedia Entertainment Group release (in U.S.) of a Goldwyn Entertainment Co. presentation, in association with the Australian Film Finance Corp. and Scala Prods., of a Scala/Unthank production. (International sales: The Samuel Goldwyn Co./Orion/Metromedia, L.A.) Produced by Finola Dwyer. Executive producers, Nik Powell, Stephen Woolley. Co-producer, Antonia Barnard. Directed by Stephan Elliott. Screenplay, Michael Thomas, based on the book "The Dead Heart" by Douglas Kennedy

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Mike Molloy; editor, Martin Walsh; original score, Stewart Copeland; production design, Owen Paterson; set decoration, Suza Maybury; costume design, Lizzy Gardiner; sound, Tony Johnson; assistant director, Carolynne Cunningham. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (noncompeting), May 13, 1997. Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Teddy ..... Jonathon Schaech Daddy-O ..... Rod Taylor Angie ..... Susie Porter Krystal ..... Dee Smart Reggie ..... Richard Moir Sylvia ..... Rachel Griffiths Blind Wally ..... Barry Humphries
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