(2002) AUSTRALIA, 110 mins
DIRECTOR: David Caesar | CAST: Bryan Brown, Toni Collette, John Goodman, Sam Neill, Sam Worthington, Kestie Morassi, Felix Williamson, Andrew S. Gilbert, William McInnes |RATING: 2/5
It’s 1969 and the American Mafia wants to get a piece of the Australian poker-machine market. Two Chicago Mafiosi, (Goodman and Williamson) are dispatched to Sydney to deal with the local criminals. They clash with crime boss Barry Ryan (Brown) and his organisation. His young nephew, Darcy (Worthington), just home from the war, wants to make some quick money and becomes part of the firm.
DIRTY DEEDS begins in Vietnam during the war. A US helicopter delivers American pizza to patrolling Aussie soldiers One of the soldiers is our young hero, Darcy. The pizza becomes a motif for the film. It represents the clash of American and Australian culture.
After Vietnam, we travel to an unconvincingly rendered United States, then travel to Sydney with crime boss Barry and his gang, who are about to bust up a nightclub filled with the wrong kind of slot-machines (ie not Barry’s). This scene is pumped up with the film’s anachronistic title song, and is marred by bizarre camera angles, confusing cutting and worst of all, a flashy, noisy title sequence that distracts from the events on screen.
Unfortunately, DIRTY DEEDS never finds its groove. The unmotivated camera movement continues throughout; rotisserie shots, canted angles and the most frequent use of the vertical wipe since ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002). This assault of colour and motion emulates CASINO-era Scorsese, but is actually closer to the style of Guy Ritchie, in that it keeps the audience at arm’s length rather than allowing us to find our way in.
The plot is based on real events, but doesn’t play out that way. The film has none of the feel for character found in Caesar’s MULLET (2001) or in his 1996 feature IDIOT BOX. All the gangsters and crooked cops are ciphers or stereotypes. The performances are mostly broad and emotionally unaffecting.
Brown, so very good with a similar role in Aussie crime flick TWO HANDS (1999) never reaches the same heights here. Strangely, it’s the American import, John Goodman, who winds up being the heart of the movie. His good bad-guy really connects with the audience. Newcomers Worthington and Kestie Morassi are also very watchable.
DIRTY DEEDS is a romp with a body count, not a serious drama about the circumstances and consequences of choosing a criminal life. If it’s violent, empty fun you’re after, then this film might fit the bill.