Conservative audiences that turned “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” into a mainstream TV hit are the likeliest customers for this fitfully amusing Aussie farce about two small-town buddies who pretend to be gay for financial gain. Toplining Paul Hogan at his most relaxed this side of “Crocodile Dundee,” director Dean Murphy’s crowd-pleaser is inoffensive to a fault at times but could charm auds who’d normally run a mile from queer themes. Pic should score strong locally, where Hogan is still widely regarded as a national treasure, but lacks the freshness and knockout punches to generate more than moderate offshore returns.
Saddled with a hefty tax debt courtesy of his ex-wife, local cinema proprietor Vince (Hogan) hits on a scheme to alleviate the burden. It’s election time and the government has announced lucrative tax breaks for same-sex couples. Turning to lifelong friend Ralph (Michael Caton), an easy-going automobile mechanic, Vince proposes they put on a gay act for authorities but keep the hoodwink a secret from wagging tongues in their rural hometown of Yackandandah, pop. 1,000.
Plot machinery sputters in opening stanzas as stock supporting characters are introduced and subplots telegraphing a highly public “coming out” are wheeled into place. Pic shifts into much more entertaining gear once these sixtysomethings decide to take a crash course in “gayness” and find a Henry Higgins in the form of hairdresser Eric (Glynn Nicholas). Eric whips the clueless guys into shape with deportment classes from the mincing-fairy school.
Comic tempo is upped further during a field trip to Sydney for the renowned Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras. Swapping conservative clothes for gay party dress, the duo nervously enters a heavy-duty nightclub where drag queens and leather-clad bikers embrace the apparent bravery of the out-of-towners. Aussie viewers will delight at the sight of Hogan dressed in a ritzy variation on the famous costume he wore during his heyday as a TV comedian.
Vince and Ralph submit to the awkward grilling of government official McKenzie (Pete Postlethwaite), who doesn’t buy the act until he attends the town ball along with almost every other character who’s passed through the frame.
With pro-tolerance messages delivered ever-so-gently, and verbal humor on the naughty-but-nice side (think “La Cage aux folles” at half-sizzle), pic rests heavily on Hogan and Caton to carry the day. Hogan’s natural charm serves him well as the eternal optimist with one eye on the loot and the other on a postmistress, Yvonne (Paula Duncan). Caton, also a favorite on local screens, balances the double act neatly as the kind-hearted sidekick whose initial reluctance is gradually replaced by a disarming enthusiasm.
Helmer Murphy, whose previous features “Lex and Rory” and “Muggers” also dealt with the comic side of male friendship, impresses with an unfussy visual approach and extracts all the laughs and pathos the spotty script has to offer.
Supporting perfs are all fine and the real town of Yackandandah in northern Victoria looks picture-postcard pretty under the elegant lensing of d.p. Roger Lanser. Dale Cornelius’ sprightly score adds bounce to proceedings and other tech credits are on the money.