Rita Artmann (story) and Joe Bauer (story/written by)
Rita Artmann as Andi
Tamara McLaughlin as Cam
Lawrence Silver as Keith
Doug Hatch as Elliott
Joe Bauer as Jon
The Australian UFO-comedy-indie, Australiens(see that spelling cleverness?) received its US premiere at the 2nd annual FilmQuest Festival on Tuesday night. Borrowing the goo-ey, extra-terrestrial humor and over-the-top wackiness of such films as Men in Black, Mars Attacks! and The World’s End — and taking a page from the comedy ensemble casting/acting of the zombie classic, Shaun of the Dead, it’s a sci-fi comedy which, while enjoyable, doesn’t quite make it.
At age 10, an alien-obsessed Andi is visited by a glowing green spaceship. Cut to 17 years later, and she is the lead singer of a hard-rock/goth band in Brisbane – vehemently ending every performance with a proclamation of the existence of extraterrestrials. Her brother – hypochondriac Elliott (Doug Hatch), documentary filmmaker friend Cam (Tamara McLaughlin) and cousin Keith (Lawrence Silver) are part of her entourage. Following one of the band’s poorly-attended shows, the aliens return en masse to take over Brisbane, and eventually all of Australia. Andi and her friends discover that Andi’s mother has been kidnapped by the creatures (to what end?), and so they set out on a road trip to Andi and Elliott’s house to find their father and clues to their mother’s whereabouts. Add into this, Andi’s long-held belief (everyone mocks her for this) that her encounter with the aliens as a wee child – left her with “cognitive abilities” (this repeat line is an on-going gag which actually works), confirming in her own mind that these gifts are the reason for the aliens’ return. She believes she could be a potential threat to the invaders.
It’s a very broad comedy with a fun story and some snappy dialogue. However, not all of the jokes hit their mark. As such, you’ll find yourself chuckling often – if alas never blissfully wheezing as you lose your breath due to the spasms of laughter rocking your body.
Although many of the jokes do fall flat, some of the more political fare – without fail – works. The ever-constant jabs at the red-headed stepchild territory of Tasmania and world super-powers like the USA and Britain definitely hit their target. In the story, you see, the continent/country of Australia (with the exception of Tasmania – much to the disgust of Andi) is the only place on earth where the attack is happening. Numerous news reports on the reaction of the USA and alike countries are the joke highlights. Political, hysterical and spot-on. And one of the final reports of a specific (and very small, poor and undeveloped) country denying aid to Australia – easily the best line of dialogue in the film.
The film’s effects, obviously done on a small budget, are actually quite impressive. When the alien ships arrive, the sky over Brisbane is speckled with their green light, while the city-scape is a fiery, smoldering mess of destruction. The aliens themselves are green monsters straight out ofMars Attacks!. And although the googly-eyed creatures aren’t terribly original in design, their execution is pretty spectacular. I’m assuming there was some motion-capturing going on here, and the interrogation scene at Andi’s house is lots of fun.
It’s definitely an ensemble piece, but I found Andi’s cousin Keith (“a 6 time consecutive boxing champion over 12 years”), played by Lawrence Miller — the most endearing and delightful. He’s as sad a sack as can be – spastic and awkward in every move – including a predilection for hilariously vomiting in high-stress situations.
Other stand-outs include Joe Bauer as the group’s friend Jon – doing his very best “Edgar” ofMen in Black impression. The group — despite Jon’s strange behavior and neon-green-tinted skin — has no idea that he’s been duplicated by the creatures. This isn’t the only sci-fi classic borrowed from/paid homage to in the film. There’s a blatant Independence Day speech late in the film, meant to rally the troops before the group heads back into Brisbane to complete their mission.
The climax is quite a hoot as all of the various characters (including Andi’s guarded-with-secrets dad) — reveal secrets and various intentions, in one of those “but wait, there’s more!” never-ending, deus ex machina character intrusions. It’s actually one of the long-winded sequences that works – whereas so many other drawn-out scenes could have been shortened (or rather hacked).
One of the reasons the film only receives a slightly above average score, was the timing. Most of the jokes are good, but the editing doesn’t fire them off fast enough. And the previous comparison to the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg films, works here as well. The jokes in those films are snappy and rapid-fire. In Australiens, there are frequent cuts to character reactions (after the jokes) and it slows everything down. It may seem a small problem to pinpoint, but this is a comedy – joke effectiveness is paramount. So if the majority of jokes don’t pop, you’ve got a problem. The lines of dialogue themselves don’t necessarily fail, it’s the delivery and editing.
The film – clocking in at close to two hours – would have benefitted from a hearty cut (a good 20 minutes or so) in its running time. Any comedy worth its weight in gold doesn’t stray far from that magic 90 minute zone.
Australiens is up for the Best Screenplay award at this week’s FilmQuest. It’s currently on the festival circuit, with no wide release date announced. I believe it was also worthy of a nomination in the Best Visual Effects category – but what are you gonna do?
I will add this. I began the review immediately after the screening. But with a few days behind me, the memory of the film has grown on me. I won’t change my rating for the film on a technical aspect, but it’s clear that the film can and will be endearing to many folks. It’s just a shame that it has so much potential, but fell short of comedy greatness.