Dir: Anthony Mir. Australia. 2003. 97mins.

Miramax Australia's first local distribution purchase since upgrading its Sydney office is, bravely, a gentle humanistic comedy from a director making his "first film ever of any kind". Anthony Mir is a local stand-up comedian, and his feature debut, You Can't Stop The Murders is, like Crackerjack (Australia's biggest home box-office success of last year) packed with other local stand-up comedians. But the acting/writing team of Mir, Gary Eck and Akmal Saleh, under the determined guidance of producer Anastasia Sideris (Love And Other Catastrophes, Strange Planet) prove themselves astonishingly adept with their first cinematic attempt, a refreshing little film that may well springboard them to bigger things. Genuinely funny and touching, You Can't Stop The Murders will do well locally when it opens on March 14, especially as Miramax flexes its new-found muscle. Mir's instinctive trust in character revelation contrasts markedly with the raucous nature of much Australian cinema comedy: as such international audiences may not anticipate this calmer blend of laughs, although astute marketeers can also use this to play to the film's strengths.

The schlock-slasher nature of the title could be a problem for the film's image, raising expectations of an altogether different genre. In fact, the serial killer here is mild-mannered and ludicrously undermotivated and his 'unstoppable murders' almost incidental. What's important to Mir and his two co-writing co-stars, Gary Eck and Akmal Saleh, is the reference to the title track of You Can't Stop The Music, the 1980 movie flop credited with permanently stalling the career of gay disco icons The Village People.

Though definitely uncamp, the film abounds in Village People references. In sleepy, backblocks West Village two underworked, undermotivated policemen - line dancing fan Gary (Eck) and sweetly incompetent Akmal (Saleh) - find themselves investigating a series of bizarre beheadings. First to go is a leather-clad biker, then a construction worker in a hard hat, then a visiting male stripper dressed as a sailor: surely it won't be long before a bare-chested cowboy and a 'red indian' in full-feathered headdress get the midnight chop. The equally useless local police chief (Carter) calls for reinforcements from Sydney Headquarters who happily send Detective Tony Charles (Mir), a self-admiring vigilante with an embarrassing record of shooting suspects.

The surprise of this low-budget production is that Mir and his team really like their odd assortment of characters and - with the director's care, some skilful playing, and empathic editing from Rochelle Oshlack - so do the audience. Indeed, a cross section of the local population is sympathetically portrayed, including the butcher, the postman, two rival motorcycle gangs, the local TV news team and the sad-faced panda-gram deliverer (Abbott). Impending 'wackiness' is kept at bay: climactic revelations in the village hall during the Annual Line Dancing Championships are perhaps best described as charmingly surreal.

Prod co: Big MO Films
Aust/NZ dist:
Int'l sales:
Myriad Pictures
Anastasia Sideris
Mir, Eck, Saleh
Justin Brickle
Prod des:
Sam Hobbs
Rochelle Oshlack
Jamie Fonti
Main cast:
Anthony Mir, Gary Eck, Akmal Saleh, Richard Carter, Kirstie Hutton, Stephen Abbott