An ill-assorted band of Aussie mercenaries heads to Spain to kidnap a failed business entrepreneur in the intriguing “Let’s Get Skase,” a caper film that centers on a real-life Australian fugitive who, in fact, died a few weeks prior to the pic’s release. Whether the demise of Christopher Skase will help or hinder the commercial prospects of this lighthearted adventure appears to have been answered with its dismal Oz opening of $A185,397 ($92,698) in its first week, starting Oct. 18, on 109 screens (about $850 per screen). It was possibly hurt as much by the uneven treatment afforded what could have been a sure-fire action comedy. A fast fade is likely, with mixed reviews providing little help in dragging in undecided cinemagoers. International prospects are dicey.
Christopher Skase was a poster boy for the greedy 1980s, heading a property development company, Qintex, which, at one point, even outbid Rupert Murdoch for MGM. But when Skase was unable to come up with the cash to back his $1.5 billion offer, it was the beginning of the end for Qintex.
Skase fled Australia, owing millions of dollars, all the while claiming he’d done nothing wrong, although Australia’s prime minister, John Howard, claimed that he “has committed an obscenity on the Australian people.” Skase wound up living in luxury with his family on the Spanish island of Majorca, while the Australian government tried, in vain, to extradite him. He became widely known as Australia’s most hated man.
Early scenes flesh out this background by way of deftly used newsreel excerpts, culminating in a memorable 1995 TV appearance by comedian Andrew Denton, who suggested Australians donate money to pay for a bounty hunter to travel to Majorca to kidnap Skase. Screenplay, by Lachy Hulme and director Matthew George, takes that proposal and runs with it.
Pic basically follows the “Dirty Dozen” formula. Peter Dellasandro (Hulme), a sharply dressed con man, makes a pitch to the Qintex creditors’ board, offering to head a military-style operation to grab Skase and retrieve a vital computer disc containing evidence of shady financial dealings.
Unfortunately, after setting up a promising premise for an adventure pic with a sense of humor, the filmmakers drop the ball in the extended, and mostly uninvolving, training sequences for Dellasandro’s team. The introduction of a rival mercenary and TV personality, muscle-bound Eric Carney (Craig McLachlan), only serves to needlessly complicate matters . Director George (whose previous two no-budget features have been virtually unreleased) must take the blame for the heavy-handed treatment of what should have been sure-fire comedy scenes.
However, once the action shifts to Majorca (in sequences filmed in Western Australia), things pick up considerably, and George shows hitherto unrevealed dexterousness in handling the team’s infiltration into the Skase mansion during a formal banquet.
Section also benefits immensely from the presence of actor Wayne Hassell, who plays Skase and is a dead ringer for the late businessman. This adds verisimilitude and fun to the climactic scenes, at least for local auds. Dianne West, as Skase’s wife, Pixie, is also spot on but has less exposure.
Co-writer and lead Hulme has a charismatic screen presence that suggests he could have an interesting career ahead of him (he has a featured role in the “Matrix” sequels). He apparently based his character on a real-life mercenary who attempted to kidnap Skase in 1995, and his flamboyant dress sense and arrogant self-confidence gives the film a strong central protagonist.
The others, in an almost all-male cast, acquit themselves well enough, but the comic tone apparently aimed for is notably lacking in many scenes. Production values are solid in every department, though the widescreen format isn’t always used to the best advantage.