In desperate need of a fairy godmother to transform it from one of Australia’s most popular and successful TV sitcoms into a viable bigscreen franchise, strained and scattershot lowbrow comedy “Kath & Kimderella” instead overstays its welcome and turns into a pumpkin. Fans of the show’s four seasons and single TV movie will welcome the squabbling suburban mother-daughter duo and their extended family of genial ne’er-do-wells with open arms, but offshore territories that rep a fit for this glass slipper will likely be limited to strongholds for Aussie antics, such as the U.K.
The routine lives and material pursuits of the Australian middle class have been the subject of no-holds-barred satire since at least the mid-1950s, when Barry Humphries, who has a brief, wordless cameo here, created his beloved Dame Edna Everage character to not-so-affectionately lampoon what he called “Australia’s vast and unexplored suburban tundra.”
The dysfunctional characters of relentlessly cheerful Kath Day-Knight (Jane Turner) and her eternally cranky only child, Kim Craig, nee Day (Gina Riley), were conceived in the early 1990s for the Aussie sketch-comedy show “Fast Forward.” It began the first of four standalone seasons in 2002 and became an immediate pop-culture lightning rod for its elaborate linguistic gymnastics (“effluence” for “affluence,” and so on), as well as for the typically withering look at Australian working-class materialism and manners that so-called ocker comedy is known for. A made-for-TV movie, “Da Kath and Kim Code,” appeared in 2005, with Turner and Riley later exec producing an American spinoff for NBC, starring Molly Shannon and Selma Blair, that went nowhere.
The show is set in and not too far around Kath’s tract house in a suburb of Melbourne. Secondary characters include Kath’s second husband, butcher and self-proclaimed “purveyor of fine meats” Kel Knight (Glenn Robbins); Kim’s long-suffering ex-husband, Brett Craig (Peter Rowsthorn); Kim’s “second-best friend,” Sharon Strzelecki (Magda Szubanski); and the Craigs’ young daughter, Epponnee-Rae (Morghyne de Vries).
Here, while buying wart cream, Kath impulsively enters a contest and wins a trip for three to the obscure medieval Italian duchy of Papilloma. Once there, Kath, Kim and Sharon bicker their way through a series of misadventures involving the corrupt and gold-digging King Javier (Rob Sitch, director of “The Castle” and “The Dish”), his conniving second Alain (Richard E. Grant) and a pair of star-crossed young lovers (Erin Mullally, Jessica De Gouw).
Kel, Brett and Epponnee-Rae show up eventually, as do a clutch of “Fast Forward” alumni in supporting roles, Riley and Turner’s snobby characters Prue and Trude, and a pair of Down Under reality show stars, Alex Perry from “Australia’s Next Top Model” and local “MasterChef” judge George Calombaris.
Turner and Riley readily admit in interviews they’re leery of stretching the conceit too thin, yet in shifting the action to Europe and veering into straight-up farce more watered down than that on the show, that’s just what they’ve done. Thus, the hit-and-miss gags mostly miss, though Riley’s brief rendition of “My Humps” on harpsichord and Frank Woodley’s single scene as a vigorously literal deaf interpreter are laugh-out-loud funny.
The clunky pace and uninspired blocking by Ted Emery belies his experience as the TV show’s longtime helmer, while the exaggerated thesping by all involved hews closely to the spirit of what used to be called the boob tube.
A handful of Italian locations benefit enormously from the gorgeous, if overlit, widescreen lensing of David Parker, and a clutch of vintage tunes, including Sweet’s “Fox on the Run” and The Tubes’ “Don’t Touch Me There,” reinforce the blue-collar mood. As befits their complete ownership of these characters, the screenplay credit reads “written and created” by Turner and Riley.