Basil Fawlty meets Tony Soprano in the quirky Down Under comedy "A Man's Gotta Do," starring Aussie tube star John Howard as a slow-burning fisherman-assassin with elaborate family problems. Fourth feature from Chris Kennedy won a best-of-section award at the Montreal fest and should travel to other fests.

Basil Fawlty meets Tony Soprano in the quirky Down Under comedy “A Man’s Gotta Do,” starring Aussie tube star John Howard (not to be confused with the prime minister of the same name) as a slow-burning fisherman-assassin with elaborate family problems. A cut above the average Aussie crazy-clan comedy, fourth feature from Sydney-based dentist-turned-helmer Chris Kennedy won a best-of-section award at the Montreal fest and should travel to other fests and do manly specialized biz both before and after its early November domestic bow.

In the New South Wales seaside town of Shellharbour, burly waterman Eddy (Howard), anxious to please his flashy wife Yvonne (Rebecca Frith), with whom he shares a contentious but affectionate home life, supplements his income by taking the odd hitman-for-hire gig with timid apprentice Dominic (Gyton Grantley).

When his daughter, Chantelle (Alyssa McClelland), is jilted by her Russian fiance and Yvonne begins to show some interest in a local handyman, Eddy must navigate treacherous shoals to keep his family together.

Helmer Kennedy has a knack for creating eccentric characters, as evidenced in previous features “Doing Time for Patsy Cline” and “This Won’t Hurt a Bit.” Like those films, “A Man’s Gotta Do” packs enough schematic plotting and odd business into a conventional yet sluggish running time to fill two Coen Brothers movies. Yet the sum of these parts yields diminishing returns, as pic’s frantic complexities and forays into raunchy humor grow strained over feature length.

With his barrel chest and gravelly, deadpan delivery, Howard plays deftly against the broad comedy by reigning his energy in for maximum effect — think Edgar Kennedy as a bouncer. From certain angles, McClelland looks remarkably like a young Liv Ullmann, which has nothing to do with her perf here, but will send a shiver up the spines of male auds of a certain age. Supporting players are fine.

Tech credits are stylish, with the ostentatiously gaudy color scheme of production designer Elizabeth Mary Moore and art director Nell Hanson a distinctive backdrop.

A Man's Gotta Do

Australia

Production

A Hopscotch Films release (in Australia) of an Oilrag production. (International sales: the Works, London.) Produced by Chris Kennedy, John Winter. Executive producer, Troy Lum. Directed, written by Chris Kennedy.

Crew

Camera (color), Kim Batterham; editor, Emma Hay; music, Peter Best; production designer, Elizabeth Mary Moore; art director, Nell Hanson; costume designer, Jane Johnson; sound (Dolby Digital), Tony Vaccher. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (Cinema of Oceania), Aug. 31, 2004. Running time: 93 MINS.

With

John Howard, Rebecca Frith, Alyssa McClelland, Gyton Grantley, Amie Mckenna.
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