After hitting the mark with his debut, the 2002 teen comedy “Blurred,” Aussie director Evan Clarry meets with mixed success in “Under the Radar.” Comic thriller about four young misfits tangling with assorted heavies during a road trip delivers a respectable laff quotient but the non-linear narrative doesn’t generate much-needed suspense until too late. Engaging performances by an appealing cast will help “Radar” to modest theatrical biz at home, but pic will face a tougher task offshore. Pic opened locally July 29.
In the first of a series of sequences evolving from a car chase on a remote farm, young amnesiac Adrian (Clayton Watson) is collared by a couple of hoods and hauled before emphysemic gangster Ched (Robert Menzies). Suffering a condition rather too similar to the protag’s in “Memento,” Adrian has his memory erased every half-hour, and he keeps whatever grip he has on reality via notebooks, photographs and tape recordings.
Somewhere in his assortment of keepsakes lies the clue to something valuable, though precise nature of the prize remains a mystery until deep into the second half of events. In an early comic highlight, the wheezy Ched expires mid-interrogation and Adrian, who has made a valiant attempt to help his captor survive, is soon joined in the hot seat by an unlikely traveling companion, blond surfer Brandon (Nathan Phillips).
Pic then flashes back to events placing mismatched duo in present predicament. Cocky, dope-smoking junior surfing champion Brandon has been sentenced to community work at a center for the mentally handicapped following a beach rage incident. Desperate to enter a surfing competition, he convinces sympathetic supervisor Maxine (Marg Downey) to OK a day trip to the beach for the benefit of Adrian and the cerebral palsy-afflicted Trevor (Steady Eddie). En route to the waves, distressed hitchhiker Jo (Chloe Maxwell, debuting) joins the team.
“Radar” loses momentum in a mid-section that struggles to graft suspense into its patchwork. Jumps forward and backward in time and the late arrival of a second gang headed by the sadistic Gene (Damien Garvey) are more of a hindrance than help to a plot that, boiled down, is simplicity itself.
Still, film offers some neatly drawn characters whose good humor helps smooth over script’s unwieldy transitions. Top-billed Phillips, who impressed in his debut in “Australian Rules” (2000), makes a likable rogue out of Brandon, and cerebral palsy-affected Steady Eddie (a favorite on the Australian stand-up circuit) delivers a funny steam of acidic barbs.
Lensing of lush southeast Queensland locations by Phillip M. Cross effectively contrasts the darker tones of present time scenes with a brighter palette in flashbacks. Score by David Thrussell and Francois Tetaz alternates whimsy and menace in pleasing turns.