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Australia 2003
Directed by
Stavros Kazantzidis
96 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Mike Esler
1 stars


Synopsis: Small time horse-trainer Max Mackendrick (Marcus Graham) has successfully screwed up his life. His wife hates him, his mistress loathes him and his father-in-law wants to kill him. With nothing to lose, he enlists the help of his best friend and concocts a plan to rig the biggest race in Australia.

The cleverest aspect of the Stavros Kazantzidis/Allanah Zitserman film, Horseplay, may well turn out to be the pitch its creative team made to prospective financiers a couple of years ago. Considering that this sorry mess must have looked as lame on paper as it does on screen, there really should be no surprises at the likely disappointing returns.

The world needs another caper film like Bill Hunter needs lessons in acting gruff. When will the Australian film industry realise that? Bill Hunter doesn’t an Aussie movie make. It’s time for this lazy, limited great-uncle of our screen to quietly disappear into kiddies' supermarket pantos. Not that he should take more than his fair share of blame for the inadequacies of this film. The script is unfocussed, with not a single new idea, visual or conceptual. Sub-plots are either vacuous or tediously superfluous. Endless scenes of wacky goofball types hairing around with guns and briefcases full of cash, crashing cars (that’s right, they crash cars!) jumping into swimming pools in their underwear, snooty rich kids and their parents stamping their feet and shaking clenched fists, bodies in wheelbarrows, a hostage with a bag over her head (incredible, a laugh riot!). Even simple effects like make-up lack reality. After a car accident the passengers stagger about (waving guns of course) with blood and cuts that look 3 days old. And are we really supposed to care that a bimbo society girl loses her business, family and friends because of her dimwit gold-digging husband’s inane indiscretions? Puuulease.

Loosen up Mike, it’s a comedy – cut some slack why doncha? I can’t. Films like this are the saddest of indictments of an industry that begs for excellence but too often delivers dross. It seems we are so good at good but even better at bad. Like You Can’t Stop The Murders, Horseplay is about stupid people being stupid. Tushka Bergen as Max’s wife Alicia and Amanda Douge her best friend Grace are simply embarrassing. Yet I’m sure they acted their parts to the director’s letter. It’s the parts that smart - cliché after cliché abound as single dimensional characters trip over each other in a rush for screen time. We have no likeable characters other than the achingly contrived Becky, played bravely by Natalie Mendoza. We know she is likeable because she hates everyone.

Yet there are three ironically gorgeous components of this film. Marcus Graham, who struggles stoically with his trite dialogue and pathetic character, is a screen flame. I wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually followed Russell into the Hollywood big league. Those nostrils! There’s David Eggby’s superb cinematography. We get to see this disaster in glorious deep, crystal colour. And the costume design which saw Versace Classic and Carla Zampatti take a leading hand. That’s it folks. One sight gag that actually raised a titter and it’s all over.

One of the prerequisites for a successful comedy is the laugh. Unfortunately, the cinema where I viewed Horseplay resounded to the echoes of stunned silence.




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