A slacker's redemptive bounce back from rock bottom stumbles between oddball laughs and a dysfunctional-family yarn in the Kiwi black comedy-drama.

A slacker’s redemptive bounce back from rock bottom stumbles between oddball laughs and a dysfunctional-family yarn in the Kiwi black comedy-drama “A Song of Good.” Sophomore New Zealand helmer Gregory King’s follow-up to his 2003 feature “Christmas” was nurtured at Amsterdam’s Binger Film Lab and Rotterdam’s Cinemart, but structural flaws seem to have been overlooked. While some fests may express interest because of pic’s pedigree, awkward combo of potent violence and frequently ineffectual humor is unlikely to duplicate the international success of more innocuous Kiwi film “Eagle vs. Shark,” despite sharing a similarly dry wit.

Introduced via a rapid succession of slapstick misadventures that start with his near-drowning in a river, 20-something suburban Auckland slacker Gary Cradle (Gareth Reeves) makes it quickly apparent that his lifestyle is no longer working for him. His desperation for amphetamines and marijuana have left him devoid of self-esteem, despised by his family and a stooge for his drug-fuelled friends.

Unable to get credit for a drug deal with Denis (Matthew Sunderland), the thuggish ex-husband of his part-time hooker sister (Danielle Cormack), Gary robs the cashed-up New Age hippie, Mrs. Esckleson (Darien Takle), who lives next door. Wearing a pink balaclava with a smiley face, the incompetent burglar is interrupted mid-heist and, unable to silence the distraught woman, he rapes her.

After an unexplained white-light epiphany, Gary quits drugs. Intending to refashion himself as a useful member of his highly dysfunctional family, and of society, protag takes a job at hamburger franchise Mr. Yummy.

Script hints on a couple occasions that the sexual assault will be revisited, but even this moral compass point makes it difficult to accept the film’s comedic tone. Fast-food outlet setting is supposed to keep the laughs coming, but having had too much fun at his expense in early reels, pic can’t drum up much aud sympathy for Gary.

While redemptive recovery yarns can be outlandish and amusing (e.g. John Dahl’s alchoholic hitman pic “You Kill Me”), this effort fails to convince on its own terms. Reeves struggles in a demanding role, and except for a surprisingly poignant closing scene, the supporting cast rarely raises above caricature.

Helmer King displays considerable visual flair, but his script is too half-baked to reconcile the drama with the black humor. HD lensing has a flat appearance and cheapens the outlook of an already off-kilter affair. Other tech credits are pro.

A Song of Good

(New Zealand)

Production

A New Zealand Film Commission presentation of a Robber's Dog production, in association with Headstrong, the New Zealand Film Commission. (International sales: New Zealand Film Commission, Wellington.) Produced by Mark Foster. Executive producers, Leanne Saunders, Paul Swadel, Anthony Timpson. Directed, written by Gregory King.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Virginia Loane; editor, Jonathan Venz; music, Dylan Wood; production designer, Ashley Turner; sound, Jeffrey Holdaway. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Sturm und Drang), Jan. 29, 2008. Running time: 82 MIN.

With

Gareth Reeves, Ian Mune, Danielle Cormack, Caleb Griffiths, Jarod Rawiri, Matthew Sunderland, Darien Takle.

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