Dir: Alex Proyas. Australia. 2002. 105mins.
With the major backing of Fox Searchlight and a US$7m budget - hefty by Australian standards - Alex Proyas' eagerly anticipated first feature since his acclaimed, effects-laden dramas The Crow (1994) and Dark City (1998) is a surprisingly lightweight comedy about an underachieving Sydney band's lust for fame and the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Proyas has spent big on impressive graphics, startling drug-induced effects and a tremendous soundtrack crammed with local and international acts, but little has been invested in the credibility of the band's musical performances or the glitzy, oddly out-of-date rock world to which they so desperately aspire. Initial Australian box office has been disappointing: the film, which opened on Oct 4, has only managed $240,000 from 160 screens, an average of $1,500 per screen.
With credibility vital to the film's target audience of 18-30 MTV-watchers, Garage Days is unlikely to hit the international heights of this dazzling director's earlier, darker works.
Upcoming actor Kick Gurry is, however, highly convincing as the band's lovelorn lead singer. With the charismatic flash of a Michael Hutchence and the comic ease of a young Mel Gibson, he reveals himself as a movie star, the next big Australian thing.
The punk-inspired band in question begin at the bottom of the heap, unable to get a gig in the emptiest pub, saddled with Bruno (Dykstra), the least efficient manager imaginable. Though they never seem to rehearse, or even touch their instruments, the nameless group are driven by dreams of rock stardom, drugs and decadence.
By chance, lead singer Freddy meets Shad Kern (Csokas), Australia's most successful rock manager, dripping in money and lustful beauties, and begins a determined pursuit of That One Big Break. Band politics, soapy couplings, drugged episodes and near disasters intervene before the band achieve a snatched but authentic taste of fame, an impressive sequence shot on the run before a 40,000 crowd at last year's Homebake, an annual open air Sydney event. It is obvious to the crowd'and the band, too'that they haven't got what it takes, but at least, so goes the coming-of-age message, they lived their dreams for one brief moment.
Ever the inventive stylist, Proyas fills out his thin, episodic narrative with plenty of sex and cinematic panache. While the soundtrack thunders with good tunes (the CD will be a winner), the lively cast pounds the computer-enhanced streets of hip inner-Sydney Newtown, moving from pot-induced solo fantasies to a hilarious LSD-inspired group hallucination during a visit by Tanya's uptight parents. Richard Learoyd's editing is exceptional here and throughout.
Proyas stays strictly within the band's own fantasised expectations of rock life, here depicted as an 80s blend of glitter, wild sex and free-spending record companies. His potential audience will know that no band can be stars without one good song; that no manager can get you a record contract on the strength of one blow job, however expertly delivered.
Prod co: Mystery Clock Cinema
Aust dist: 20th Centruy Fox (Aus)
Int'l sales: Fox Searchlight
Prods: Proyas, Topher Dow
Scr: Proyas, Dave Warner, Michael Udensky
Cinematographer: Simon Duggan
Prod des: Michael Philips
Ed: Richard Learoyd
Music: Dave McCormack, Andrew Lancaster, Antony Partos
Main cast: Kick Gurry, Pia Miranda, Maya Stange, Chris Sadrinna, Bret Stiller, Russell Dykstra, Marton Csokas