A trio of young Kiwis with nothing to lose drive a hot car the length of New Zealand and become folk heroes along the way in this sleek, kinetic and eye-catching retooling of the 1981 film that slapped the word “Goodbye” at the beginning and put the country on the map. Car-chase films play everywhere, but the bonus of natural chemistry between the two male leads and skilful, well-blocked stunt work ensures this remake entrée into international markets. Hello, “Pork Pie.”
After fleeing his own wedding, blocked novelist Jon (Dean O’Gorman), on his way to confront his ex, Suzie (Antonia Prebble), at another set of nuptials, is nearly run over by Luke (James Rolleston), himself on the lam from vengeful thugs in a stolen Mini Cooper S that’s either apricot or yellow, depending on the light.
They get an appetite for burgers after eluding a hapless traffic cop, and acquire fast-food employee-cum-vegetarian activist Keira (Ashleigh Cummings, so good in the recent Australian thriller “Hounds of Love”) when she wriggles out the drive-thru window literally into their laps.
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At that point it’s off to the races, as the three elude capture on the streets of Wellington (a clever recreation of the original’s most memorable set piece) and head south toward Invercargill. Along the way Keira plugs them into social media and they become increasingly less reluctant folk heroes cheered on by the populace.
The story has been cleverly updated by writer-director Matt Murphy, son of the original film’s director Geoff (who crewed on the first film as a lad). Though the new trio doesn’t smoke as much dope as first film’s protagonists, Murphy the younger retains an undeniable stoner vibe, thanks in large part to the non-sequitur-strewn banter of the leads. Crucially, the casual misogyny of the 1981 release has been replaced by an unforced social conscience, and Murphy even takes the time to provide a quick backstory to both the title and their outlaw soubriquet of the Blondini Gang.
The two male leads have a tangible chemistry as newly minted best friends; O’Gorman’s comic timing is expressive without becoming self-conscious, and Rolleston’s more stoic demeanor makes him a natural wheel man (like all good car chase movies, editor Jonno Woodford-Robinson includes lots of stick shift and footwork action). Cummings brings a spunky confidence to her conflicted fast-food worker.
The film opened in its home country nearly 36 years to the day after the original to decent business, and rolls out in Australia March 9. Not accidentally, it’s also a widescreen advertisement for both the Mini Cooper and the country’s spectacular scenery.