In the middle of the Australian Outback, Constable Rose is escorting his prisoner Ned Williams to their eventual destination. All the while trying to avoid being Injured, shot, eaten and most importantly of all, Ned escaping.
Although I have never actually visited the country, I do have a fondness for Australia. Back in the 70’s and 80’s my father was a rugby player and had a few Aussie teammates who we would regularly watch on old VHS tapes of NRL games and they would point my dad in the direction of an up-and-coming Aussie comedian called Paul Hogan.
When all of my friends were lapping up Neighbours, Home And Away and Prisoner Cell Block H. I would watch The Paul Hogan show with my dad every week on Ch4. Then Crocodile Dundee became a huge box office smash and Paul Hogan became a megastar, my dad and I would smugly grin at each other. ‘We knew about him before he was famous.’
It’s been over 30 years since Mick Dundee and his rather large knife hit our Cinemas, smashing records and becoming a movie icon, but during that time Australian comedy has been a bit barren on the big screen and its successes have been fewer and far between. There has been Strictly Ballroom, The Castle, Muriel’s Wedding and Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert, but after that my memory becomes a little hazy.
Interestingly, New Zealand comedy seems to be suddenly flourishing at the moment, culminating in Taika Waititi’s understated comedy genius being allowed to run riot in of all places the Marvel Universe. So what is the problem with Antipodean comedy? It certainly isn’t that Australians aren’t funny, because I have just watched writer-director, Ren Thackham’s ingenious mash-up of Mad Max and Groundhog Day, ‘Round Trip’ and it is 6 minutes of pure imagination and unadulterated fun.
Blue collar copper Constable Rose (the very laconic Danny Bolt) is escorting prisoner Ned Williams (Lee Priest) to the station. All he wants is to do is his job and get Ned to the right place and on time, unfortunately, he is lost in the outback and thus begins a comedic game of cat-and-mouse as each character tries to outmaneuver the other.
Basically a two-hander, both actors have a great chemistry and each brings their A-game to their roles; Bolt is sufficiently deadpan as the bored but hard-working policeman just trying to get on with things, while Priest brings a huge amount of energy to Ned; his size and temper very reminiscent of the great James Cagney. There is a scene halfway through the short where each actor faces each other and we see the height difference, Bolt being at least 2 feet taller than Priest gives us a lovely comedic effect. It was this that reminded me of Laurel and Hardy and as they both try to take control of the odd situation they find themselves in. The comparison seems very apt.
The film looks gorgeous, so praise indeed to cinematographer Sue Lumsdon whose eye for detail is excellent. She is helped enormously by the beautiful Australian scenery, sometimes all a cinematographer has to do is point the camera and drink in the surroundings and she manages to do this effortlessly.
Finally a few words about director Ren Thackham, without trying to condescend or patronise in any way. Thackham is a female director (of which I didn’t realise on my first viewing of the short). The reason I mention this is because it simply does not matter. What does matter is that she is obviously a very special talent. Round Trip is a really clever comedy extremely well-written and excellently shot. Female directors are so rare that we need to nurture and promote the ones who are talented enough to make it all the way to the top. Just from viewing this one short, I believe Thackham can reach those heights and in doing so, could open the door for other female artists to follow in her footsteps.
If the Australian film industry wants a new champion then give Ren Thackham a decent budget and watch her thrive. That’s not a director, THIS is a director.