Destined to be forever known as “Harry Potter Gets Laid,” the visually well-mounted but narratively muddled “December Boys,” featuring Daniel Radcliffe, is an occasionally touching but rarely convincing coming-of-ager. Starting out like kiddie fare, the film sees its identity altered by awkwardly grafted sexual elements that seem to promise a more mature, continental tone. Oz production should play strongest in Euro markets, with Radcliffe’s presence providing curiosity value in theatrical outlets and translating into a long shelf life worldwide on ancillary.
Film plays as if it’s set in the ’50s, but its Australian pop soundtrack sets it in the ’60s. Four lads at an Outback orphanage — Misty (Lee Cormie), Maps (Radcliffe), Spark (Christian Byers) and Spit (James Fraser) — are treated to a seaside summer holiday for their shared December “birthday.” Voiceover narration by Misty’s older self (Oz vet Max Cullen) provides backstory as the quartet are driven to the South Australian coast by rough-and-tumble Irish priest Father Scully (Frank Gallacher). Upon arrival, the boys enter into the care of jocular old sailor Bandy McAnsh (Jack Thompson) and his welcoming wife, Mrs. “Skipper” McAnsh (Kris McQuade).
Yarn feels strictly kidsville with the four frolicking around the beach and hills and making wishes about being adopted, until topless French woman Teresa (Victoria Hill) emerges from the surf. She and her circus stunt-rider b.f., Fearless (Sullivan Stapleton), are childless and, to the boys, ideal potential parents.
The artistically inclined, goody-two-shoes Misty takes the lead in positioning himself as chief adoption candidate. By far the oldest at 17, Maps thinks it unlikely he will ever be adopted. But distracting compensation arrives for Maps in the form of comely blonde teen Lucy (Teresa Palmer), who is also vacationing in the area.
Even before Maps gets his initiation into manhood, Lucy’s stance and apparel signal a tonal shift that will alarm conservative parents who’ve escorted their offspring to what seems like nothing more than an exercise in nostalgia. While screen decency is maintained, the scenes between Palmer and Radcliffe are genuinely erotic, and the less interesting thread of Misty and his adoption ambitions never regains ascendency. The other boys scarcely register as personalities, but a subplot involving Mrs. McAnsh touches an authentic emotional nerve.
Emphasis on other adult activities like drinking and smoking (tobacco inhalation hasn’t been so lovingly depicted since David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart”) seem jarring, rather than truly indicating that pic is actually aimed at adult auds.
While the story’s core is sincere, execution is generally slipshod. A climactic twist doesn’t pay off, and the “will they or won’t they” question of Fearless and Teresa adopting one of the boys is resolved in naive and unbelievable fashion. Finale reuniting the narrator and the surviving “December Boys” as old men sees pic again confused about its audience.
Oz-trained, Los Angeles-based, sometimes film, mainly tube director Rod Hardy (“Buffalo Girls,” “The X-Files,” “JAG”) delivers a patchy helming job. Except for Radcliffe, the boys need a firmer director, and the adult thesps have their best efforts compromised by poor editing.
In tandem with his legit “Equus” venture in Blighty, pic reps Radcliffe’s clear ambition to prevent stereotyping. Palmer builds on her impressive turn in Oz high school drama “2:37,” and seems destined to be a thesp whose allure is equally matched by her acting chops.
Lensing is top-notch and makes excellent use of Kangaroo Island locations. All other tech credits are pro.