Review: ‘Any Questions for Ben?’

Scoring sufficient small laughs to entertain, lighthearted Oz romp "Any Questions for Ben?" flirts with romantic comedy and urban sophistication but lacks commitment.

Scoring sufficient small laughs to entertain, lighthearted Oz romp “Any Questions for Ben?” flirts with romantic comedy and urban sophistication but lacks commitment. The latest feature from Australian tube production company Working Dog, whose previous pics (“The Castle,” “The Dish”) were also helmed by co-founder Rob Sitch, this character study of a shallow marketing executive fails to generate much interest in its bland protag (Josh Lawson), though other thesps deliver expert thumbnail characterizations. Despite its low-tech package, pic will triumph in Oz multiplexes, but it’s questionable whether it will generate more than indifference offshore.

After an opening quote from Hemingway (“Never mistake motion for action”), the film introduces marketing guy Ben (Lawson), whose directionless life is filled with boozy product launches and casual sex with women ranging from makeup-counter girls to Russian tennis stars. Onscreen captions sum up Ben’s fickle way with jobs, dwellings and especially lovers, and thanks to this smart concision, auds will instantly grasp his problems with intimacy and commitment. Unfortunately, it takes Ben nearly 90 minutes of the pic’s almost two-hour running time to figure out what’s wrong. Constant quips fill the time, but real laughs are infrequent.

Human-rights lawyer Alex (Rachael Taylor), a former classmate of Ben’s, passes through his orbit during occasional breaks from her work in Yemen, and the pic spends its last few reels contemplating whether she might be the woman to help Ben bust out of his cozy cocoon. The final scenes are cleverly written, touching and astute, but far too late to save the script from the second act’s overlong circling pattern.

Taylor hits her mark, but the script never examines her character’s own need for long-distance romance. Lawson displays the easy charm one would expect from a member of his profession but seems baffled by Ben’s inner emptiness, and by the end, the character feels at once underdeveloped and overexposed. Supporting cast reps a potpourri of Oz comedy thesps, while Sitch himself submits an amusing cameo as a self-important school headmaster.

Helmer uses helicopter shots of Melbourne skyscrapers as a transitional technique between sketch-like scenes to affect a Woody Allen feel, but the device merely portracts a story that could have used a substantial trim. Direction is unremarkable overall; fuzzy lensing and some muffled dialogue recording indicate a tech package that will better suited to TV. The ’70s-flavored soundtrack adds a boost.

Any Questions for Ben?

Australia

Production

A Roadshow Films release of a Working Dog production. (International sales: Working Dog, Melbourne.) Produced by Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Michael Hirsh, Rob Sitch. Directed by Rob Sitch. Screenplay, Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Sitch.

Crew

Camera (color), Stefan Duscio; editors, Phil Simon, Stu Morley; music, James Sidebottom, Jane Kennedy; music supervisor, Kennedy; art director, Anita King; costume designer, Sandi Cichello; sound (Dolby Digital, Datasat), Gregory H. Watkins, J. Stanley Johnston; visual effects, Aaron Beaucaire; stunt coordinator, Zev Eleftheriou; line producer, Deb Herman; assistant director, Annie Maver; second unit camera, Germain McMicking; casting, Jane Kennedy. Reviewed at Event Cinemas George Street, Sydney, Jan. 30, 2012. Running time: 115 MIN.

With

Josh Lawson, Rachael Taylor, Daniel Henshall, Felicity Ward, Christian Clark, Jodi Gordon, David James, Ed Kavalee, Rob Carlton, Tracy Mann, Lachy Hulme, Chantelle Raleigh, Alan Brough, Liliya May, Tom Carmody. (English, Arabic dialogue)

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