A killer croc and a sturdy cast headed by Radha Mitchell and Michael Vartan do what's required in "Rogue," a competent horror filmed in eye-catching Aussie outback locations. More restrained than his no-holds-barred psychothriller hit "Wolf Creek," helmer Greg McLean's sophomore outing wants only to be a good B-grader and succeeds with regular scares and a monster worth the ticket price.

A killer croc and a sturdy cast headed by Radha Mitchell and Michael Vartan do what’s required in “Rogue,” a competent horror yarn filmed in eye-catching Aussie outback locations. More restrained than his no-holds-barred psychothriller hit “Wolf Creek,” helmer Greg McLean’s sophomore outing wants only to be a good B-grader and succeeds with regular scares and a monster worth the ticket price. Bankrolled by the Weinstein Co. via its Dimension shingle, pic’s on-again, off-again U.S. release has been put on hold pending a Down Under road test. Creature feature splashed wide into Australian waters Nov. 8 with solid biz.

Arriving in a Northern Territory backwater famous for its concentration of crocs, American travel writer Pete McKell (Vartan) is given the requisite frosty reception by locals before joining a river cruise run by chirpy guide Kate Ryan (Mitchell).

Used to more luxurious surroundings, the Yank doesn’t do much talking at first. Early screen time cuts between breathtaking travelogue and snappily sketched intros of passengers, including annoying shutterbug Simon (Stephen Curry), grieving widower Russell (“Wolf Creek’s” John Jarratt), well-bred Brit Allen (Geoff Morrell), his sick wife, Elizabeth (Heather Mitchell) and their spirited young daughter, Sherry (Mia Wasikowska).

Reptilian star is kept on hold while Kate’s loutish ex-b.f., Neil (Sam Worthington), buzzes her pleasure craft with his speedboat and is seen off by Pete. Conflict between the uncouth river rat and the cultured American comes to a much more serious head minutes later when the unseen croc rams both vessels, leaving everyone stranded on a tiny river island that’s soon to disappear under a rising tide.

Familiar scenario of a monster dining on trapped intruders afflicted by bouts of hysteria is played out vigorously by a cast giving it plenty, and McLean’s sure hand with suspense. Without straying too far from formula, the helmer also tweaks genre convention by allowing more firmly established characters to live the longest.

Aided by a 25-foot CGI beast seen convincingly gobbling up prey in one bite, and speeding other victims upriver in “Jaws”-like moments, the result is decent popcorn entertainment with just the right degree of simmering romance between the leads. While not an acting showcase, the pic benefits greatly from Mitchell’s appealing perf as the down-to-earth and mightily resilient Kate. Vartan is fine as the city slicker in the thick of primeval terror.

Lovely HD-to-35mm lensing of glorious locations will have many viewers wanting to visit the region regardless of threatening wildlife. Sadly, “Rogue” reps the last completed work of late d.p. Will Gibson (“Wolf Creek,” “Macbeth”).

Mix of aboriginal vocals, didgeridoo drones and lush strings by composer Francois Tetaz effectively speaks for the beauty and danger of locale. Rest of the tech package is on the button.

Rogue

Australia - U.S.

Production

A Roadshow Films (in Australia)/the Weinstein Co. (in U.S.) release of a Dimension Films (U.S.)/Village Roadshow Pictures (Australia) presentation of an Emu Creek Pictures production. (International sales: The Weinstein Co., New York.) Produced by David Lightfoot, Greg McLean, Matt Hearn. Executive producers, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Joel Perlman, Robert Kirby, Tony Cavanaugh. Co-executive producer, Gary Hamilton. Directed, written by Greg McLean.

Crew

Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Will Gibson; editor, Jason Ballantine; music, Francois Tetaz; production designer, Robert Webb; art director, Lucinda Thomson; costume designer, Nicola Dunn; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital), Des Kenneally; sound designer, Craig Carter; visual effects supervisors, Dave Morley, Andrew Hellen; assistant director, Marshall Crosby; casting, Angela Heesom, Venus Kanani (Australia), Mary Vernieu (U.S.). Reviewed at Hoyts Broadway Cinema, Sydney, Nov. 8, 2007. Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Radha Mitchell, Michael Vartan, Sam Worthington, John Jarratt, Stephen Curry, Heather Mitchell, Geoff Morrell, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Taylor, Caroline Brazier, Celia Ireland.
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