Dir: Frank Shields. Australia. 2000. 90 mins.

Long-time producer Phil Avalon's considerable achievement in raising enough private finance to make this Australian crime thriller from his own script would have been infinitely greater if the finished movie, launched during the American Film Market in LA, wasn't so lazily derivative.

The concept is great -- 'ex-cop surfer, down on his luck, sets up office as a private eye on a Sydney surf club balcony with a mobile phone and a bottle of sunscreen as his only overheads'. Shame the promised local colour got washed away by every cliche in the international private-detective-hunts-missing-girl book.

The eponymous 'Finder' is grim, heavy-set Les Kearney (played by well-known local television hero Simon Westaway). Hired by distraught business man Bob Castaldi (Barry Langrishe) to find his kidnapped daughter Rebecca (Anja Coleby), Les is quickly off the beach and confronting backstreet drug dealers, perverted nightclub owners and a variety of blood-soaked killers, the nastiest of which is slinky Leo Natoli (Paul Mercurio). Barging his way ever closer to the plucky Rebecca, Les deals with the bad guys in his direct manner -- which usually means pushing them against walls and threatening horrors. Despite the murder of a couple of helpers along the way, this macho method eventually leads Les to the girl and the plot's mastermind, a character whose background and motives are but sketchily presented.

Unable to unlock the potential of their sun/surf/sleuth concept, Avalon and veteran director Frank Shields instead deliver a compendium of overfamiliar situations, characters and dialogue, with an occasional ill-judged sequence of 'comic relief'. A committed bunch of talented actors do their best to energise an otherwise limp affair whose true home may well prove to be off-peak cable television.

Prod co: Avalon Films. Local dist: InterTropic Films. Int'l sales: Beyond Films. Prod: Phil Avalon. Scr: Phil Avalon. Cinematography: Andrew Robertson. Ed: David Stiven. Music: Ian Cameron-Smith. Main cast:: Simon Westaway, Paul Mercurio, Anja Coleby, Barry Langrishe.