A gang of crooks meet suburban cannibal cooks in middling Kiwi horror-comedy “Fresh Meat.” Toplining local thesping royalty Temuera Morrison as the head of a wealthy Maori family who convinces everyone except his lesbian daughter to adopt a religion with an unusual dietary regime, the pic gets off to a bright start before running out of steam as bodies pile up in the basement. Energetically directed by TV helmer Danny Mulheron, “Meat” ought to carve out a decent life on the genre circuit and home entertainment following its world preem at the Hawaii fest. Domestic dinner call is Oct. 25.
Radically different from everything else in the resume of respected Maori playwright and screenwriter Briar Grace-Smith (“The Strength of Water”), “Fresh Meat” opens on a frisky note with young Rina Crane (Hanna Tevita) getting it on with a fellow student in the showers at St. Agnes’ Boarding School for Young Maori Girls. A pleasant run of chuckles follows as Rina returns during semester break to the family McMansion in a posh part of Wellington, and reassures her concerned father, Hemi (Morrison), an academic with an inflated ego, and mother Margaret (Nicola Kawana), a TV celebrity chef, that she’s “not even interested in boys.”
Hemi and Margaret’s tiptoeing in telling Rina how they and their son Glenn (Kahn West) have recently embraced a new religion with cannibalism at its core is nicely intercut with action on the other side of town. En route to the slammer in a prison transport, hefty Taiwanese gang boss Ritchie Tan (Leand Macadaan) is set free by his tough-as-nails g.f., Gigi (Kate Elliott); his drug-snorting brother, Paulie Tan (Ralph Hilaga); and doofus explosives expert Johnny (Jack Shadbolt). With police choppers closing in, Ritchie and Co. take refuge in the Crane house just as a horrified Rina discovers what the family’s lifestyle change is all about.
Amusing shenanigans ensue as Ritchie assigns each of his crew to guard a hostage. Funniest developments include Johnny suffering reverse Stockholm syndrome while discussing recipes with Margaret, and Ritchie ending up in ladies’ underwear after setting his lustful eye on Rina.
The cheerfully vulgar screenplay works fine while everyone is still alive, but begins to flag when lunch begins. Rina’s refusal to participate in the slaughter, and her shameless lust for Gigi, provide some pep through a second half mostly lacking the zingy dialogue and inventive plot twists required to lift this type of nonsense out of the ordinary.
Thesping honors easily go to newcomer Tevita, whose comic timing and ability to switch in an instant from virginal innocent to salivating sexual huntress marks her as a talent to watch. Elliott scores as the hard-boiled g.f., and Shadbolt hits the right spot as the dumbo sidekick. Though clearly enjoying the outing, Morrison appears stiff at times, and isn’t handed enough good lines to make his first major comic role a memorable one.
With a background that includes co-scripting Peter Jackson’s raunchy 1989 “spluppet” comedy “Meet the Feebles, helmer Mulheron injects plenty of visual energy into the proceedings. Slick widescreen lensing, spot-on production design of a nouveau-riche household, and colorful costuming including Gigi’s eye-catching hot pink shorts-and-tank-top ensemble combine effectively to create the atmosphere of a high-gloss soap opera gone berserk.
An eclectic soundtrack ranging from jazzy 1960s spy movie sounds to fast-and-furious rock numbers adds luster to a thoroughly professional technical package.