Director and writer of Stone Bros, Richard J Frankland, is a funny bastard. Piss-taking, irreverent and just genuinely bloody funny. His intro at the Q&A screening of the movie last Sunday night had the place rockin’. I’m a comic’s nightmare, routinely po-faced while others are rolling around hooting, but I cacked myself to the point of needing to wipe away tears by the time he was finished with us.
Disappointing, then, that this bloke’s undeniable comic talent didn’t quite bloom on-screen in Stone Bros – not as extravagantly as it might have, at least.
This is the first Aboriginal stoner road movie, and as such, as Frankland pointed out in the post-screening Q&A session, it’s a radical departure from the common depiction of the Aboriginal as noble savage. “Black fellas can be funny buggers, too, ” he asserted (redundantly), adding with glee that he and producer Ross Hutchens had waived aside PC considerations at every opportunity in the making of Stone Bros.
Ironic, then, that one of my problems with the movie is that it is not outrageous enough. Not in a groundbreaking, genre-shaking kinda way, at least.
Of course, Cheech and Chong’s trademark as originators of this sub-genre looms so large as to render any subsequent doper road comedy replete with ganja gags more or less passe. Stone Bros runs straight through this hurdle rather than clearing it, but that’s forgivable.
A little less so is the invocation of the spirit of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert (a movie I yawned through), which materialises in the tranny character Regina (David Page). Page – a bona fide drag artiste – gives an ebullient performance, so no issue there. But for me, the character was a bit try-hard, forced into the story as a whacky element, perhaps out of an over-riding urge to blow Aboriginal stereotypes out of the water, rather than emerging naturally out of the imaginative milieu of the movie’s inner world.
If blasting away at indigenous stereotypes was a core agenda of the film makers, they have succeeded that far. Party boy Charlie, effervescently played by Leon Burchill (the standout among the performers), is an endearing, irresponsible, job-shirking, womanising doper with a wild afro, a shitload of ready-rolled numbers, and an irreverent approach to just about everything, including his culture. Eddie, by contrast (played by Luke Carroll), is an earnest young bloke striving to “do the right thing”, but vulnerable to Charlie’s influence. Light-skinned, worried that he is “not black enough”, he is fixated on his cultural heritage and sense of indigenous identity. Then there’s Mark (Peter Phelps), a sensitive white cop on a spiritual quest who believes he is a black fella trapped in a whitey’s body (now there’s a spectacular stereotype explosion!). Not to mention a possessed zombie dog…
All good. As are the performances. What’s not is the dodgy script. Too many gags fall flat, too many lines draw attention to themselves as “written”, and the narrative meanders about less than purposefully much of the time, losing itself in zany diversions that deliver on eccentricity but not much else.
The irreverence that informs the greater part of the movie is undercut by a terribly PC – and, to my mind, unconvincing – anti-drug conclusion. I think it unlikely that any young audience will buy it.
Stone Bros will probably gain a devoted cult following, and going by the response of the audience on Sunday, many will find it funnier than I did. Ultimately, though, it’s just another in a long line of quirky Aussie movies. With some rigorous editing and/or a re-working of the script to ruthlessly dispense with the flab and the flat lines, it could have been more.
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