Dir: Paul Maloney. Australia. 2002. 92mins.
Relying heavily on the shambling amiability of its co-writer/co-producer/ star, this easy-going comedy will register with local audiences familiar with comedian Mick Molloy's unkempt persona, developed during a decade of TV, radio and stand-up appearances. With Roadshow investing in a wide Australian release (it opened on Nov 7 on 205 screens to take $1.4m in its first week) and production partner Network 10 adding television PR, Molloy fans may well be tempted to give Crackerjack a try, though its meandering tale of elderly lawn bowlers whose precious inner-city clubhouse is threatened by a poker-machine-obsessed businessman may prove too cosy for a hip young demographic expecting Molloy's usual dark and biting one-liners. International audiences will appreciate the Ealing Comedy quaintness of the basic situation while being unimpressed by the extreme variability of the jokes.
Crackerjack created an enthusiastic buzz at the Australian International Movie Convention in August and pre-MIFED expectations were high, especially after the overwhelming cross-generational success of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Molloy's movie certainly has wide potential - 'It's One For Young And Old!' goes the tag line - but younger audiences may find the on-screen oldies too innately uncool while an older audience might well be bothered by liberal doses of swearing, pot-smoking and general slouching about.
Things start well. Jack Simpson (Molloy) is a long-standing member of the Cityside Bowling Club only because membership guarantees a car parking space in the congested inner Melbourne area where he works as an uncommitted telephone marketeer. Threatened by the loss of his free parking, ungainly Jack is forced to actually do some tournament bowling with the band of ancient folk (who still toast the Queen) that run the under-funded club and battle the avaricious attentions of ruthless property developer Bernie Fowler (Clarke, also a TV satirist).
It's no surprise that congenial, heavy-drinking Jack gets on well with the eccentric old codgers, male and female, of the club (played by a splendid variety of veteran Australian character actors led by Bill Hunter). However, his transformation from hopeless dolt to supple-wristed bowling hero with a freak delivery is certainly unexpected. So too is his romance with hardbitten Nance (Lucy), a journalist giving unlikely headlines to the unlikely bowls team as they battle to win the tournament prize money and save their clubhouse.
The hit-or-miss humour script (Molloy and brother Richard) includes a creaky parade of ageist quips and the least amusing comedy end captions imaginable. Meanwhile feature debut director Maloney's feel-good conclusion properly unites all ages. Molloy himself - comfortable, baggy, semi-engaged -- emerges as a likeable Aussie everyman in search of an undemanding quest and a few good jokes.
Prod co: Million Monkeys-Molloy Boy Prods
Aust dist: Roadshow Films
Int'l sales: Beyond Films
Prods: Mick Molloy, Stephen Luby
Scr: Mick Molloy, Richard Molloy
Cinematography: Brent Crockett
Prod des: Penny Southgate
Ed: Ken Sallows
Music: Garth Skinner
Main cast: Mick Molloy, Bill Hunter, Frank Wilson, John Clarke, Judith Lucy