Monday, 27 August 2018

Chasing Comets (2018) - Movie Review

The plot: Rugby player Chase (Dan Ewing), after being caught cheating by his girlfriend Brooke (Dan Ewing), has lost his self-confidence and decides to make some changes. For a start, guided by his local reverend (George Houvardas), he takes a vow of abstinence and sets out to prove that he can be faithful in more ways than one. However, between the jeerings of his local town in response and the perplexed reactions of his best mate Rhys (Stan Walker), his plan to take control of his life again is going to be an uphill struggle.

Well, we’re already off to a bad start, since the cast here is an unwanted mixture of bland, bizarre and making the best of a bland and bizarre situation. Ewing as our lead feels the most comfortable in his role, as his self-reflection on his goals, his treatment of his wife and his faith makes for a pretty likeable performance. Walker as his best mate is… distractingly weird. He’s playing the shallow womanizer, and manages to skate by on making that palatable, and yet he manages to overtake all of the tongue-in-cheek machismo of the narrative around him as far as inexplicable flamboyancy goes. He is the campest ostensibly-straight man I’ve seen on screen in a very long time, and considering what the film ends up doing with his character, that isn’t a good thing.

Rhys Muldoon as the down-to-earth AFL coach works out okay, while Justin Melvey as his vapid thespian brother feels like he’s trying to tell a joke without an actual punchline written for it; the attempts to poke fun at his pompous aspirations land that weakly, and his performance does little to save it. George Houvardas as ‘The Rev’ feels like he should be the character that should have his own movie, considering he’s the one who actually has a character to speak of, and while it really sucks that none of the female actors here end up making an impact, that’s probably because they haven’t been given much to work with.

Which brings us to the writer/producer Jason Stevens, a real-life NRL player whom the events of the film are loosely based on. Now, the actual start of the film is one of the more surreal opening credits I can remember watching, with its starting proclamation of “this is based on a true story… kinda… okay, it’s a story, written by someone who hasn’t written a movie before, and has taken a few blows to the head from playing rugby”. That is actually what we are told, and while it starts everything off on a nicely humourous note, it’s also a self-conscious admission that feels like an apology for the rather limp writing we’re about to be subjected to. The story itself is broken up into chapters, titled in eye-rolling double entendre, but even that framework doesn’t fit a story where there is no real sense of progression between events.

The characters, as mentioned earlier, are mostly plain and the actual stakes of the plot lack a lot of focus. I mean, sex scandals involving footballers make for juicy news headlines, and even this film’s differential take would qualify (and, historically, did qualify), but no sense of importance is put behind anything we see. Chase’s rugby career, his relationship woes, his lack of self-confidence; none of it is presented in a way that makes us care. Same goes for the rather inexplicable side plots, involving bets to walk through the town naked, acting auditions, and newscasters getting heckled, none of which goes anywhere. Hell, there’s so little resolution to be found here that the ending has us told through narration that everything worked out for our characters and they all lived happily ever after… whether it makes sense for them to or not.

Of course, Stevens isn’t solely to blame for this film’s myriad of problems; some of that lies with director Jason Perini (or, as the opening credits call him, “a different Jason”), who takes a lot of stupid steps when it comes to making a sport movie. For a start, the soundtrack is lame on toast, full of public domain tunes and really, really tacky classical music picks; hardly the kind of music that gets people amped up to watch burly blokes tackle each other. Then again, that’s hardly an issue since we barely even get to see any sports being played to begin with. We get a handful of scenes of Chase and Rhys playing, but for the most part, we get the football games narrated to us by a radio announcer, while we’re stuck watching Chase’s manager listening to the game in a restaurant. It is embarrassing, to put it mildly.

So, the acting, the writing, the music and the (lack of) visuals are all pretty milquetoast; does this film have anything going for it? Well, honestly, it does but it isn’t exactly something I think most of us were expecting out of a film promoted mainly on the basis of rugby locker room shenanigans: It’s a Christian film. What’s more, it’s one specifically about the Christian ideal of sexual abstinence; you know, that thing is too often passed off as the be-all-end-all of sex education? I joke, but honestly, for a depiction of an aspect of sexuality that rarely if ever gets screen time, it’s an interesting subversion of what most people typically consider a ‘sex scandal’ in the world of sports. It’s also the major real-life inspiration that Stevens tapped into, given his real-life admission of abstinence made for a lot of joke fodder amongst the uber-macho sporting community over here back in the day.

However, no matter what way you slice it, this doesn’t make for anything all that compelling. As part of the relationship between Chase and Isabel Lucas’ Brooke, it comes across more like secular self-reflection than anything inspired by the divine. As part of Chase’s faith, it only just gives this a vibe of an Aussie PureFlix effort, just without the hideously misjudged moralising… although the simultaneously flamboyant and promiscuous Rhys serving as the yang to Chase’s narrative yin is a bit suspect. And as the drive for Chase’s character arc, it only amounts to Chase suddenly becoming better at rugby, a fact that we have to take the film’s word for since the big climactic Grand Final that serves as the film’s finale? Fucking. Narrated. By. Fucking. Radio. This is like if, instead of actually watching the ending bobsled race in Cool Runnings, we only saw John Candy watching it on TV and reacting to it. It's a bad sign when you're making the director of Cool Runnings, who recently helmed a B-movie with a budget over $100 million, look sensible by comparison.

All in all, this is painfully weaksauce. The acting is spotty and rarely offers anything noteworthy, the writing comes from a first-time screenwriter and it shows, the visuals come from a first-time feature film director and it shows, the music is laughable, the jokes frequently aren’t, and as a faith-based film, it only wins points because it isn’t as wholesale offensive as most of its competition; compared to the likes of God’s Not Dead and War Room, that isn’t a difficult thing to do but it’s one of the few that this film actually succeeds at. That, and being one of the most glaring examples of ‘tell, don’t show’ that I have ever covered on this blog.

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