Dir: David Caesar. Australia. 2002. 98 mins.

Hot on the heels of the last Australian gangster caper, The Hard Word, comes David Caesar's equally macho, amoral and raucous Dirty Deeds, with the distinct advantages of a decent budget, a smart script and a vibrantly realised late-1960s setting. In addition, a top ranking local cast headed by Bryan Brown, Toni Collette and Sam Neill is boosted by the expansive John Goodman as a visiting Mafia man. Backed by a wide Roadshow release, The Hard Word took a decent A$2.83m in five weeks before dropping out of the top 20. In comparison, Dirty Deeds has been given an even wider release (250 screens) and a confident, massive marketing campaign could well make it the year's biggest home-grown box office hit. The film has already registered an impressive $702,000 (A$1.27m) four-day box office from 183 screens when it opened in Australia at the weekend. International interest will follow, although it will be interesting to see what American audiences make of the total humiliation of their men by crafty Aussie hillbillies.

Pizza-loving US hood Tony (Goodman) and his menacing young sidekick Sal (Williamson) are sent to Sydney to establish a Mafia bridgehead among the illegal casinos run by tough-guy Barry (Brown, impressively doubling as co-producer) with the tacit support of crooked detective Ray (Neill). But Sydney, Tony discovers, is no Chicago, a comparison that gives writer/director Caesar's lively screenplay plenty of comic impetus.

Using Mafia money to scramble established underworld connections, Tony turns Barry's brutally controlled world upside down, even unsettling his cosy, wittily observed suburban homelife. In particular it impacts on Sharon (Collette), Barry's long-standing wife: loving, yet tough as nails, and coping with the reality of her violent husband's younger mistress (Morassi).

His authority slipping away, Barry cooks up a revenge strategy that involves hiring a plane and taking the Americans on a wild boar hunt in the outback, which sees the sex and often frenzied violence spread from sleazy inner Sydney to a hot, panoramic wilderness. But Caesar keeps his character's motives hidden and Barry seems beaten: consequently, there's a dangerous drop of dramatic tension just when the film should be coming to an exciting climax. Rushed flashbacks and much bloodshed come to a late rescue.

Brown's familiar gangster turn - vicious, but with a soft centre - remains as reliable and as good value as ever. Meanwhile Collette and Neill have infectious fun in support. Goodman seems, appropriately enough, like a very large fish out of home waters.

Dirty Deeds proudly parades its references, including the premise from The Long Good Friday, the special effects from Three Kings and the gangster banter from Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels. There are also many period pleasures circa 1969 to savour: shirts, wallpaper, golden Holden cars and smatterings of brightly authentic, slang-filled dialogue. Not to mention the toilet waste collection truck - or "dunny cart" - that gets spectacularly and disgustingly rammed during a car chase.

Prod cos: New Town Films, Haystack Productions
Aust dist:
Nine Films & Television, in association with Hoyts Distribution
Int'l sales: Alliance Atlantis
Prods: Bryan Brown, Deborah Balderstone
David Caesar
Cinematography: Geoffrey Hall
Prod des: Chris Kennedy
Ed: Mark Perry
Music: Tim Rogers
Main cast: Bryan Brown, John Goodman, Toni Collette, Sam Neill, Sam Worthington, Kestie Morassi, Felix Williamson