Review: ‘The Nugget’

A buddy comedy about three working-class dimwits whose dreams of wealth come true -- though getting there is a bit of a nightmare -- "The Nugget" comes off as a too-obvious giftwrap of trademarked beer-scarfin', back-slappin' Aussie charm for the tourist trade.

A buddy comedy about three working-class dimwits whose dreams of wealth come true — though getting there is a bit of a nightmare — “The Nugget” comes off as a too-obvious giftwrap of trademarked beer-scarfin’, back-slappin’ Aussie charm for the tourist trade. Wearing “heart” on its sleeve like a sailor’s tattoo, poking at dumb-and-dumber formulae without braving full-blown Farrelly Brothers-type yocks, this slick mediocrity looks to be a mild B.O. performer at home, minor rental fare elsewhere.

Latest disappointment from erstwhile critical fave Bill Bennett (“Kiss or Kill,” “Spider & Rose,” “Backlash”) is a routinely commercial laffer granted no distinguishing flavor by direction or his own screenplay. Trio of generic dolt-heroes, dubbed “The Black Tar Gang” for their road-maintenance jobs, comprise handsome but hapless backyard gourmand Sue (Dave O’Neil), conspiracy theorist Wookie (Stephen Currie), and perennially luckless get-rich-quick schemer Lotto (“Chopper” and imminent “Incredible Hulk” topliner Eric Bana). Their respective wives tolerate the inseparable trio’s weekends “prospectin’ for gold” at a shared rural landplot. They really just sit around drinkin’ brew, and the spouses sometimes wish their “boys” would apply equal dedication to paying the bills.

During one such getaway, the threesome’s concerted wishis magically answered by a white cockatoo and heavenly sunbeam pointing them toward a very large rock that turns out to be very largely gold. Giddy at their sudden good fortune, the men can’t help but attract attention from two jealous outbackers (Peter Moon, Alan Brough). Latter duo soon steal the bounteous boulder from protags’ suburban hiding place. By the time our heroes realize this, they’ve already suffered their own “Treasure of Sierra Madre” style fallout — thanks to Wookie’s greedy wife Darlene (Sallyanne Ryan), who briefly convinces him to claim the whole golden pie.

Ensuing hijinks work up just fair slapstick-situational steam, with rote fade bookending pic’s faint initial stab at fable-like whimsy. In the same vein is the cutesy deployment of a wise-old-coot narrator (Max Cullen) who otherwise barely figures in story. Final credits use of Bobby McFerrin’s tired novelty hit “Don’t Worry Be Happy” encapsulates the forced, unimaginative approach to a premise that needs inspired silliness and genuine warmth. Laugh-out-loud moments are few, the best running gag on tap being the refrain, “Let’s have a beer,” which reps characters’ final say-so under every possible circumstance.

Cast of Aussie TV and stand-up talents may boost profile on home turf, but their game turns never transcend routine material here.

Design contribs are pro but undistinguished. Tech package ditto.

The Nugget

Australia

Production

An Overseas Film Group, Australian Film Financing Corp. and MacQuarie Film Corp. presentation in association with Showtime Australia of a b.j. films production. Produced by Bill Bennett, Jennifer Cluff. Executive producer, Richard Sheffield. Co-producer, Silvia Milat. Directed, written by Bill Bennett.

Crew

Camera (color), Danny Ruhlmann; editor, Henry Dangar; music, Nigel Westlake; music supervisor, Andrew Kotatko; production designer, Nicholas McCallum; art director, Jen O'Connell; set decorator, James Watts; costume designer, Louise Wakefield; sound designer (Dolby), Wayne Pashley; assistant director, Rachel Evans Artis; casting, Jennifer Cluff. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 12, 2002. Running time: 96 MIN.

With

Lotto - Eric Bana Wookie - Stephen Curry Sue - Dave O'Neil Ratner - Peter Moon Jurgen - Alan Brough Dimitri - Vince Colosimo Cheryl - Belinda Emmett Doug - Chris Haywood Joyce - Jean Kittson Wally - Max Cullen Darlene - Sallyanne Ryan Moon Choo - Karen Pang
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