A Few Best Men

The kind of bottom-feeding yuckfest where a character's slip in dog poo within the first minutes sets the tenor for the next 90 or so.

With: Xavier Samuel, Kris Marshall, Kevin Bishop, Tim Draxl, Olivia Newton-John, Laura Brent, Rebel Wilson, Jonathan Biggins, Steve Le Marquand, Elizabeth Debicki, Olivier Torr.

Helmer Stephan Elliott boldly goes where almost no one wanted him to go again — toward “Welcome to Woop-Woop’s” no-brow scatology — while “Death at a Funeral” scribe Dean Craig recycles that hit’s ideas in “A Few Best Men,” the kind of bottom-feeding yuckfest where a character’s slip in dog poo within the first minutes sets the tenor for the next 90 or so. Admittedly, that makes it no dumberer than many recent mainstream comedies. But without their star power, this tale of immature Englishmen mucking up a high-toned Aussie wedding looks destined primarily for home formats beyond Oz and the U.K.

Having met during an idyllic tropical-island holiday, college students David (Xavier Samuel) and Mia (Laura Brent) are head over heels and headed toward the altar. Orphaned at an early age, the groom must first announce this surprise news to his best mates: Obnoxious, arrogant Tom (Chris Marshall), bumbling Graham (Kevin Bishop), and self-pitying Luke (Tim Draxl), recently dumped by his g.f. Despite their less-than-magnanimous response to the nuptials, with Tom particularly irked by David’s “betrayal,” all agree to fly from London to Sydney for the big day.

Improbably, that event will also be the first time David meets the in-laws, a wealthy clan with a rambling New South Wales estate. Mia, her pretend-lesbian (just to irk Dad) sis Daphne (Rebel Wilson), and their proper mother, Barbara (Olivia Newton-John), have long resigned themselves to living in the controlling shadow of patriarch and political kingmaker Jim Ramme (Jonathan Biggins). But Dad is positioning the unsuspecting Mia as his public-office successor; thus, the wedding is practically a state affair, designed to woo his allies into accepting a dynastic future.

A mixture of chance, ineptitude and outright maliciousness soon begins laying siege to the dignity of the event, including bachelor-party antics that leave Jim’s mascot, “Ramsy,” a magnificently horned male sheep, in several highly compromised positions, and leave a paranoid drug dealer (Steve Le Marquand) gunning for the best men he assumes have robbed him.

There are some good sight gags involving the sheep, as well as a massive runaway floral arrangement. But mostly “A Few Best Men” is just oafish, finding its metier in scatological jokes and verbal diarrhea. Pic makes “Death at a Funeral” look like Noel Coward, lazily swapping that film’s titular event for a spousal affair, replacing its hallucinogen interlude with a longer, coarser booze-and-coke one. Arguably worse is that after so much crass and mean-spirited nonsense, the pic pulls a maudlin about-face in the direction of unearned sentiment.

It’s particularly depressing to see the director of “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” leaning so heavily on gay-panic humor. Adding to the general air of witless self-satisfaction is a soundtrack cluttered with limply remade bubblegum hits by prefab acts like the Monkees, Archies, Partridge Family, etc. Making fun of such musical flotsam is like shooting fish in a barrel — exactly the level of comic sportsmanship “Men” flaunts throughout.

The best one can say about the thesps is that if their material were better, they would surely have risen to the occasion. Packaging is slick, beyond a few obvious background f/x determined to tart up the landscape’s natural scenic beauty with heavy CGI facepaint. Attention-deficit editing often shortchanges the payoff for the few halfway decent jokes here.

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A Few Best Men


Production: A Screen Australia, Arclight Films, Quickfire Films and Screen NSW presentation of a Parabolic Pictures and Stable Way Entertainment production in association with Unthank Films, Story Bridge Films, Ingenious Broadcasting and Auburn Entertainment. (International sales: Arclight, Beverly Hills/Sydney.) Produced by Shane Stallings, Laurence Malkin, Gary Hamilton, Antonia Barnard. Executive producers, Dean Craig, Josh Kesselman, Todd Fellman, Mark Lindsay, Ian Gibbins, James Atherton, James M. Vernon. Directed by Stephan Elliott. Screenplay, Dean Craig.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Stephen Windon; editor, Sue Blaney; music, Guy Gross; music, Warren Fahey, Michelle De Vries; production designer, George Liddle; art director, Hugh Bateup; set decorator, Rebecca Cohen; costume designer, Lizzy Gardiner; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS), David Lee; supervising sound editor, Andrew Plain; re-recording mixer, Gethin Creagh; assistant director, Deb Antoniou; casting, Christine King, Gart Davy, Anne McCarthy. Reviewed at Mill Valley Film Festival (World Cinema), Oct. 14, 2011. Running time: 91 MIN.

Cast: With: Xavier Samuel, Kris Marshall, Kevin Bishop, Tim Draxl, Olivia Newton-John, Laura Brent, Rebel Wilson, Jonathan Biggins, Steve Le Marquand, Elizabeth Debicki, Olivier Torr.

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