Dir: Dean Murphy.Australia. 2004. 105mins

Homegrown comedies set infriendly country communities did not fare well at the Australian box officelast year. Danny Deckchair and The Honourable Wally Norman (forinstance) had large, sweetly eccentric supporting casts but little credibilityand far too few supporting laughs. Strange Bedfellows follows thistrend, though it boasts an in-form Paul Hogan (Crocodile Dundee), thedependable Michael Caton (The Castle) and a brief but sharp cameo fromthe UK's Pete Postlethwaite.

There's nothing wrong with its premise - twoultra-straight blokes pretend to be a gay couple as a tax dodge - but theleisurely pace and laughter-light screenplay keep things predictable andstereotypical. A token youth sub-plot is also not enough to endear its oldfashioned take on gay culture beyond older audiences. It opened strongly on 194screens in Australia, taking A$1.4m, indicating that good film-making and broadaudience appeal clearly do not go hand-in-hand.

Overseas, the producers may hope the Hogan nameretains some international appeal, but this may not be enough to carry the filmagainst poor reviews. Arclight Films has signed on as sub-agent for the film,which makes its international premiere in market at Cannes.

Vince (Hogan), divorced and broke, runs the localcinema in picturesque Yackandandah and sleeps in the projection booth; Ralph(Caton) is the local motor mechanic, so lacking in business acumen that hetrades fixing a local's car for fresh tomatoes. When Vince reads that thenational government, looking for votes, has granted gay couples five yearsworth of retrospective tax breaks, he persuades wary Ralph to sign adeclaration that they are in a full-time relationship.

Of course, their secret plan leaks out to a stunnedand disapproving community; and, of course, they have to pretend to be gay inorder to convince a visiting tax inspector. Eric (Nicholas), the localhairdresser, is press-ganged into giving them lessons in mincing and twirling -though, confusingly, Eric turns out to be faking his homosexuality in order tobed local housewives without their husbands guessing.

A trip to the gay area of Sydney completes their'education' and, thankfully, it's here that Hogan and Caton raisesome genuine laughs. When at last inspector McKenzie (Postlethwaite) arrives inYackandandah, our straight guys are ready to give being gay their beststereotypical shot.

Within joke-free stretches of exposition and entirelypredictable plot development, Murphy delivers every gay cliche in thethesaurus, plus a toe-curling 'heart-warming' speech in the town hallto conclude. Such a climactic, cloying town hall speech, strangely, appeared inboth Danny Deckchair and Wally Norman - it must be a mark of thegenre.

Hogan radiates his trademark charm,honesty and matey niceness, while Postlethwaite and his grim 'convinceme' face shares equal billing in the pre-release publicity, though hisappearance is surprisingly fleeting. Cinematographer Roger Lanser makesbeautiful images from the lush Victorian backblocks.

Prod co: Instinct Entertainment
Aust/NZ dist:
Becker Entertainment
Int'l sales:
Arclight/Eden Rock Media/Arclight
NigelOdell, David Redman
Murphy,Stewart Faichney
Prod des:
Ralph Moser
Main cast:
Paul Hogan, Michael Caton, Paula Duncan, Monica Maughan,Kestie Morassi, Glynn Nicholas, Pete Postlethwaite