A middling comedy, which fails to live up to its explosive title, "Crackerjack" could catch on Down Under because of the popularity of lead actor/co-scripter/co-producer Mick Molloy. Molloy might have chosen a stronger vehicle to showcase his talents in cinemas, however.

A middling comedy, which fails to live up to its explosive title, “Crackerjack” could catch on Down Under because of the popularity of lead actor/co-scripter/co-producer Mick Molloy. Molloy might have chosen a stronger vehicle to showcase his talents in cinemas, however, as in many ways pic seems aimed at a far older demographic than the comic’s usual support base. Centered around the ultra-relaxing sport of lawn bowls, pic will struggle to find bookings internationally, but ancillary could be livelier. Last Aussie film built around the game of bowls, David Caesar’s “Greenkeeping” (1992), tanked.

Molloy is known in Oz as a major contributor to the popular early ’90s TV comedy show, “The D Generation” and later to similar tube laffer, “The Late Show,” some segs of which he directed. Later he co-hosted a highly rated radio program, devised the stage show, “Banging On” and directed the docu, “Tackle Happy,” which immortalized “Puppetry of the Penis” on film.

In his bigscreen debut, Molloy portrays Jack, a Melbourne office worker whose only achievement in life is that he’s joined a downtown bowling club simply to use free parking facilities close to his workplace. He’s actually become a member of the venerable Cityside Bowling Club (“Founded 1864, Oldest in Australia”) under three aliases and he barters the invaluable parking places for hard cash. In other words, Jack is a likable rogue, lazy, laid-back and opportunistic.

When ruthless businessman Bernie Fowler (top TV comic John Clarke) decides to take over Cityside and fill it with money-making poker machines, the club’s elderly managers — including its president, Len Johnson (Frank Wilson), lady president Eileen Musgrove (Monica Maughan) and stalwart Stan Coombs (Bill Hunter) — are determined to stop the destruction of this little oasis. They need new blood to support their anti-take-over campaign, and a check of the club records turns up Jack, a long-time member who never seems to play bowls and who no other club member has ever actually met.

Jack is informed in no uncertain terms that unless he starts taking part in club activities he’ll be expelled, which will end his parking rights. He reluctantly complies, and quickly discovers he rather likes the game, plus the fact that the club-house serves beer at 1972 prices and free sandwiches. He gets his flat-mate, Dave (Samuel Johnson) to join as well, and soon becomes the club’s star player in a vital series of contests with other clubs which will result in the survival, or the takeover, of Cityside. No prizes for guessing the feel-good resolution.

A pleasant enough screen personality, Molloy is, however, barely able to carry such a modest project. Nor is Judith Lucy, another noted Oz comedian, able to make her character, a journalist and Jack’s love interest, at all interesting. Stronger support comes from a fine ensemble of vets, especially saucy octogenarian Esme Melville (who also appears in local success “Dalkeith”) and John Flaus as the club’s most enigmatic member. Clarke brings suave urbanity to the role of the grasping Fowler, while Hunter, Wilson, Maughan and others do sterling work.

Experienced tube director Paul Moloney keeps things moving along briskly, and there are chuckles to be had along the way. Viewers not familiar with the sport of bowls may, however, be a bit puzzled at the rules of the game, and cricketing references (Jack’s specialty becomes a “flipper.” which is a cricket, rather than bowling, term) may also pass over the heads of the uninitiated.

Technical credits are all smooth as silk.

Crackerjack

Australia

Production

A Roadshow Films release (in Australia) of an Australian Film Finance Corp. presentation of a Million Monkeys-Molloy Boy Prods. production, produced with the assistance of Macquarie Film Corp., Showtime Australia, Ten Network Australia, Melbourne Film Office, Film Victoria. (International sales: Beyond Films, Sydney.) Produced by Mick Molloy, Stephen Luby. Executive producer, Greg Sitch. Directed by Paul Moloney. Screenplay, Mick Molloy, Richard Molloy.

Crew

Camera (Cinevex color), Brent Crockett; editor, Ken Sallows; music, Gareth Skinner; production designer, Penny Southgate; art director, Jayne Russell; costume designer, Kitty Stuckey; sound (Dolby Digital), Andrew Ramage; associate producer, Richard Molloy; assistant director, Annie Maver; casting, Cameron Harris. Reviewed at Roadshow screening room, Sydney, Oct. 22, 2002. Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Jack Simpson - Mick Molloy Stan Coombs - Bill Hunter Len Johnson - Frank Wilson Eileen Musgrove - Monica Maughan Bernie Fowler - John Clarke Dave - Samuel Johnson Nancy Brown - Judith Lucy Gwen Penny - Lois Ramsey Norm - Cliff Ellen Ida Jenkins - Esme Melville Edgar - Peter Aanensen Ron Marsh - Bob Hornery Cliff - John Flaus

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