Popular Australian comic Nick Giannopoulos, who created and starred in a hit stage show and sitcom before co-writing, co-producing and starring in the top-grossing feature “The Wogboy,” turns to directing with “The Wannabes,” an uneven but endearing farce about breaking into showbiz. While it plays like a silly kids’ crime caper incongruously laced with crass, adult humor, the film is good-natured fun and should score this summer at home, where the kind of exuberantly nerdy children’s entertainment groups it skewers– like the Wiggles — have achieved phenomenal success. Other markets may prove tougher to crack.
Still struggling to overcome the childhood trauma of being gonged off a tyke talent show, Danny (Giannopoulos) dreams of being an entertainer, but kills time teaching geriatric dance classes. He gets a job offer helping small-time crook Marcus (Russell Dykstra) and his three burly mates prepare for a gig as entertainers at a birthday party for the child of Granville Van Dyke (David Watson), one of the country’s wealthiest men. Unaware of their plan to steal a $3 million diamond necklace from Van Dyke’s safe, Danny is convinced by Marcus’ sexy sister Kirsty (Isla Fisher) to overlook the group’s lack of talent and accept the job.
During rehearsals, Marcus’ brutish cohort Adrian (Costas Kilias) mistakes Danny’s bonding pep-talk for a sexual overture and decides to ice him. But a rooftop fall while he’s taking aim lands Adrian in the hospital and forces Danny to step into the act.
The robbery gets bungled, but the unrefined quartet becomes a surprise hit, making them a hot property overnight, with television appearances, CDs and merchandizing deals. But vengeful Adrian and Van Dyke’s conniving gold-digger wife Rory (Lena Cruz) interrupt the group’s meteoric rise with a kidnapping plot.
While there’s nothing subtle or sophisticated going on in the writing or performances, the natural affinity of the ensemble proves enjoyable and, as the title suggests, the characters are losers with aspirations, making them a likable bunch.
Giannopoulos reteams with “Wogboy” cast members Kilias and Tony Nikolakopoulos (as a gentle hulk who discovers Eastern enlightenment), which should help play to fans of the earlier hit Dykstra and Ryan Johnson (playing rapper dude Hammer) make worthy additions, while Fisher adds easy charm and a thinly developed hint of romantic interest.
As director, Giannopoulos does a competent job, giving the film a colorful look and bouncy pace. The script could have used tighter plotting of the kidnapping antics and resulting final-act chaos. But there are plenty of amusing visual gags — such as an oldster dance-group rendition of “Grease” bop “You’re the One That I Want” or Danny as the clumsy Westerner in an otherwise serene Tai Chi class — to keep things agreeable.