Finally getting a cinema release in Australia after a year on the shelf (pic was on offer in the 1999 Cannes market), “Muggers” emerges as a fresh, funny black comedy with something to say about contemporary society. Savage in its wit, and refreshingly non-PC, pic has stand-out lead performances from Matt Day and Jason Barry as a pair of impoverished medical students so desperate to complete their studies that they emulate the notorious Burke and Hare by stealing vital human organs and selling them to a private sector surgeon. Though the generally brisk pacing falters near the end, “Muggers” deserves to find an audience for its outlandish originality alone. Cult prospects and ancillary are strong, with remake possibilities also looming.
Brad (Day) and Gregor (Barry) are eager to be doctors, but they’re being ground down by the system. With the government cutting back on educational allowances, the two are forced to share a squalid one-room apartment they rent from an obnoxious landlord (Reg Evans); in the tradition of Laurel and Hardy, they even innocently share a bed but are separated by a plastic doll with blonde hair and nurse’s uniform.
Their studying is constantly interrupted by noisy neighbors, including the rocker (Robert Carlton) upstairs with his all-night parties and the guy whose car alarm goes off day and night.
Unable even to feed themselves properly, the friends are on the brink of giving up their studies. To make matters worse, they are deeply in debt to eccentric money-lender Roy’ Rogers (Chris Haywood, very funny), whose office is filled with cheesy Western memorabilia and whose muscle-men are named Dale and Trigger. Rogers may seem comical, but he’s deadly serious about repayment of the money owed to him.
Then fortune literally falls from the sky. Just after they discover that Marcus Browning (Rod Mullinar), a prominent surgeon in private practice, is willing to pay large sums of cash for organs — kidneys, livers — a smartly-dressed businessman plummets from a window and crashes to the street at their feet. Before police or ambulance crews arrive, the quick-witted Brad has whipped a kidney out of the corpse; with the help of an ice cream carton, the organ is transported to the grateful Browning.
That’s the beginning of a lucrative trade for Brad and Gregor, who decide to combine a bit of revenge-taking with the marketing of human organs. Before long they’ve taken revenge on — and an organ from — the landlord, the guy upstairs and the fellow with the car alarm, and soon their debts are paid off.
Trouble is, Rogers is eager to know where the money is coming from. To further complicate matters, the boys are unwittingly invading the territory of some crooked ambulance men, while the police are investigating the organ thefts.
Adding spice to an already agreeably hectic mix is Brad’s realization that Sophie (Petra Yared), a fellow student to whom he’s attracted, is paying for her studies by working as a hooker for Rogers. It’s typical of the film’s cheerful disregard for convention that Brad isn’t seriously fazed by the discovery that his girl’s a whore, and the romance even blossoms.
The plotting threatens to get a tad cluttered before the generally satisfying resolution, with some apparent re-cutting throwing a key sequence of events off balance, but overall this is a satisfyingly scabrous comedy on every level. The players throw themselves with gusto into the gallows humor of the excellent screenplay, with Day and Barry having great fun in the lead roles.
At the same time, Robert Taylor’s script has some pertinent points to make about government downsizing in both health and education; the film strongly asserts that none of the increasingly desperate events depicted in the film would have been necessary at a time, not so long ago, when these crucial aspects of life were better funded than they are today.
Snappy pacing by director Dean Murphy and expert widescreen lensing by Roger Lanser enhance this highly professional entertainment. This is the first major pic for Murphy, who starred in and directed “Just Crusing” (1987) when he was 17 and subsequently made the pleasant but minor “Lex and Rory” (1991). All tech credits, starting with the dynamically conceived opening credit titles, are on the money.