Youthful dreams of rock 'n' roll stardom blend uneasily with belated coming-of-age themes and lead-footed comedy in "Thunderstruck." The knockabout charm and amiable performances are impaired by an overcrowded script and under-representation of AC/DC music will disappoint auds seeking an Oz equivalent of "Detroit Rock City."

Youthful dreams of rock ‘n’ roll stardom blend uneasily with belated coming-of-age themes and lead-footed comedy in “Thunderstruck,” named after a song by Australian rock band AC/DC. Pic’s knockabout charm and amiable performances are impaired by an overcrowded script by debuting helmer Darren Ashton and co-writer Shaun Angus Hall, and under-representation of AC/DC music will disappoint auds seeking an Oz equivalent of “Detroit Rock City.” Recent spate of disappointing returns for Aussie laffers wasn’t reversed by this heart-warming but muddled effort, which opened Down Under to lackluster biz on 153 screens May 20.

Pic begins in 1991 Sydney, with a bunch of teenage rockers and superstar wannabees crashing a post-concert party to hit on bigtime record producer Gary Geffen (exec producer Al Clark, in a wordless cameo). After rapidly being evicted into a back alley, the boys are spellbound by a poster of former AC/DC frontman, the late Bon Scott.

When their entrancement helps them miss a near-death experience with a taxi, the boys believe the dead popster was acting as their guardian angel. Concluding that this means they’re destined for greater things — i.e. superstardom — the boys make a pact that the first to die will be buried by the survivors next to Bon Scott’s grave.

Cut to the present day and fame has proved elusive for our heroes. The musical career of Sonny (Damon Gameau), who’s continually nagged by his parents, is notable for his unemployment. One-time tubby-boy drummer Ben (Stephen Curry) has lost his musical ambition along with his weight, but has found true love in the supermarket he manages. (A brief scene of courtship using Hawksian overlapping dialogue provides one of pic’s few hilarious moments.) Lloyd (Ryan Johnson) has become a paranoid drug dealer with Triad gangsters on his trail, while Sam (Callan Mulvey, in an ill-defined role) remains as sarcastic as ever.

Only Ronnie (Sam Worthington) has found a modicum of success, as a composer of ad jingles; but his life is falling apart as his ambitious but aging pop-ingenue wife, Molly (Rachel Gordon), is dividing their assets with a chainsaw. Depressed, Ronnie gets up the courage to call Sonny, but only gets his voice-mail.

Ronnie subsequently dies in what is initially suggested as suicide, but several reels later is revealed to be an elemental golfing accident which puns on pic’s title. The boys are inspired to fulfil their teenage pact, and reunite in a series of scenes that register as a pale imitation of “the mission from God” a la “The Blues Brothers.”

Stealing Ronnie’s ashes, the revitalized musicians hit the road, heading across the Australian desert to Fremantle, on the west coast, where their dead hero has his headstone. Road trip takes several wrong turns with its narrative, but finishes in a concert finale in the cemetery that’s charged with an electricity sorely lacking in rest of pic.

Helming is functional, apart from one sequence, depicting Lloyd’s drug-induced psychosis, that shows a flourish of originality. Central perfs pass the time easily enough without any of them standing out. A myriad of minor Oz celebs appear in enjoyable supporting roles — though their presence will be lost on international viewers — while co-scripter Hall also has a minor but pivotal role in the film’s mass of subplots.

Soundtrack is a mishmash of MOR rock, augmented by a serviceable score by David Thrussell and Francois Tetaz. However, it’s Jim Steinman’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” which lingers longest in the memory, thanks to an endearing sequence of male bonding in which all the leads share vocals.

Tech credits are all pro.

Thunderstruck

Australia

Production

An Icon Film release of an Australian Film Finance Corp. presentation of Wild Eddie production, in association with the Premium Movie Partnership, Sony Music Entertainment (Australia), South Australian Film Corp. Screenwest, New South Wales Film & Television Office, Eddie Wong Films. (International Sales: BV Intl. Pictures, Oslo, Norway.) Produced by Jodi Matterson. Executive producers, Al Clark, Andrena Finlay. Co-executive producer, Bjorg Veland. Directed by Darren Ashton. Screenplay, Shaun Angus Hall, Ashton.

Crew

Camera (color), Geoffrey Hall; editor, Martin Connor; music, David Thrussell, Francois Tetaz; production designer, Karen Harborow; art director, Tony Campbell; costume designer, Ariane Weiss; sound (Dolby Digital), Pete Townend; assistant director, Matt Enfield; casting, Nick Hamon. Reviewed at Greater Union screening room, Sydney, Jan. 9, 2004. (In Cannes Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Sonny - Damon Gameau Ben - Stephen Curry Lloyd - Ryan Johnson Sam - Callan Mulvey Ronnie - Sam Worthington Molly - Rachel Gordon Amy - Kestie Morassi Anna - Bojana Novakovic Chloe - Saskia Burmeister
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