Friday 23 September 2016

Spin Out (2016) - Movie Review

Just to be clear, I don’t inherently hate Australian cinema. As much as my previous rantings concerning the film scene over here may argue, I don’t see a massive issue with our collective output. There’s not nearly enough of it, don’t get me wrong, but what we do come out with can and often is very good. We have a penchant for cultural self-examination and down-to-earth humour that filmmakers would sell their livers to get such a consistent hold of, and a pedigree of actors that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with anywhere else on Earth.

I’ve always maintained that, if anything, the issue starts when the critics and marketing departments get their noses into everything, combining cultural mandates with laughable tone-deafness to create a landscape more than capable of great content but also blind to what should be done with it. At least, that’s how it usually goes. Then come along films like this that throw the occasional rusty spanner into the works by actually getting all of us to agree on something. Namely, that said product is outright garbage.

The plot: Billy (Xavier Samuel) and Lucy (Morgan Griffin) are the town’s leading Ute driving team… or, at least they were until Lucy announced that she was going to move to Sydney to get a job. With the help of his mate Sparrow (Travis Jeffery), he sets out to win her back at the annual Bachelors and Spinsters Ball, and maybe discover some other feelings for her along the way.

The acting here is decent, if a tad obnoxious. Samuel honestly still has a bit to prove in terms of being a leading man, but he makes his quite unsavoury cowboy character watchable. Not likeable, but at least watchable. Griffin was written solely with ‘tomboy’ in mind, but credit to her in that she’s as comfortable and natural in the role as she is. Jeffery probably has the most fun with his role as the narrator/rodeo clown, and his adorkable mannerisms and na├»ve nature really made me wish that the film was all about him. Like, more than anything in the world it made me wish for that. Melissa Bergland is nice and feisty as Mary, Lincoln Lewis plays the mimbo adequately, Mark Nicholson is very lively and somewhat guiltily enjoyable to watch, making me hope that this isn’t the last we hear from him, and Briggs… oh god… I’m sorry but, dude, you are so much fucking better than this.

To quote a far more intelligent comedy that I looked at a few days ago: “So basic.” Specifically, the comedy itself is shockingly, almost anachronistically basic. It feels like Edwina Exton and Tim Ferguson just went through the punchline thrift shop for their material because this is precisely the shit I’m talking about whenever I bring up “It’s funny because it’s _____”. Male nudity, with literally no other joke attached to it other than he is starkers? Check. Men in drag, again with no actual punchline? Check. Gay repression as a result of men in drag, leading to one of the more insulting depictions of homosexuality I’ve seen in a while? Check. That last one really stung because it seriously takes something pretty horrendous to make me not appreciate blokey gay characters in films.

And then there’s the cultural stereotypes around what we loving call bogans (think the chavs or rednecks of Australia), which go from references to sex with sheep and pigs to heavy drinking to bewildering fascination with cars driving around in circles. Again, just ticking all the boxes to make sure they haven’t found any actual jokes. It gets more than a little annoying after a while (by that, I mean the first 5 minutes of the film) and the fact that there is literally no spice added to it, just the stereotypes and nothing more makes it feel even worse.

Actually, scratch that: What really makes this feel even worse is how the stereotypes are used. I mean, I was more than gung-ho about Fat Pizza Vs. Housos and that film was all about ugly stereotypes. Well, the reason why that (and many other instances) worked and this doesn’t is because we are quite clearly meant to be laughing at them. Yes, point and laugh at the drunkard, sex-constantly-on-the-mind dole bludgers in their little celluloid cages; don’t you feel so good that you aren’t them? It’s the same mentality that goes into the average person who watches Honey Boo-Boo and/or Duck Dynasty: You’re sitting down to watch a sideshow attraction that shows the far darker side of human schadenfreude.

If it carried some sort of self-awareness and cultural pride with it, like "yeah, we’re dickheads but we’re bloody proud of it", then maybe this could have been salvaged. Hell, The World’s End had an ending that worked for precisely that reason. Instead, we’re just meant to laugh at these people who, frankly, probably don’t know any better. Not that the film is completely against this notion, as we get a couple of hoity-toity Sydneysiders in the mix to help bring their depravity home… except they don’t really do anything with it. One of them likes it in Tepid Dustbowl, Victoria, while the other doesn’t. They just bring a flat outsider’s perspective that, in a far better movie, would have led to some sort of revelation.

Then again, this plot is also way too simple to take the non-easy way out. It essentially boils down to the third act of Grease (the drag race and the carnival) stretched out to an hour-and-a-half, combined with that irksome rom-com trope of having the entire film just being a waiting game until the two leads get together. They keep sending each other so many friggin’ mixed messages that, when they end up fighting over such things, it’s hard to tell who is being more petty between Billy and Lucy. The fact that it’s placed next to the Boganisms of the setting makes it even worse because there’s that expectation that Billy will come to his senses and realise how much of a black hole the town is and just leave it with Lucy, leading to an ending that shows a touch more sense than the rest of the story.

Yeah, no spoiler tag because I am beyond the point of caring with this thing. I only say a touch because it’s less him abandoning this town of complete idiots and more he just happens to be leaving. Not before another pointless scene of doing donuts in the dirt, which somehow manages to be even more drawn-out and irrelevant than pretty much any other scene shown here. Trust me, after seeing this entire town trying and failing to get laid (which, given how this small town also contains a bunch of kids, just further drives home the whole redneck thing), that is saying something.

All in all, this is an absolute waste of time and money. In fact, I’m seriously glad I used a free ticket to see this one because I don’t think there’s enough Hail Marys in the world to forgive me for directly paying these hacks for wasting my time. The acting is okay and there are maybe one or two jokes that landed, but otherwise it’s just a big mosh pit of pitiful and hideous stereotyping rolling around in its own filth, while only momentarily sobering up to the fact that maybe it could be doing better things with its time. I have no issue with sophomoric humour, I’ve liked plenty of dumb comedies in the past, but there’s a right way and a wrong way of doing it. And then there’s whatever the hell happened here. Rather than putting money towards this drivel, check out the Aussie TV series Cleverman instead; it’s a far better estimation of what visual storytellers are capable of over here, and it’ll give Briggs some publicity for something that’s actually good.

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