By Clint Morris | September 2, 2003

Depending on who you talk to, it’s been a bit of a catastrophic year for Australian films. The public will probably perceive it as being quite a good one since their’s been so many of them [at the moment it feels like their’s on released a week], but if you’re in the accounting department of any film distributor looking after local product you know it’s been anything but money-spinning. Not that the films have been bad, they haven’t, actually some of them this year – namely “The Night We Called it a Day”, “Bad Eggs”, “Alexandra’s Project” – have been quite good, it’s just that there’s been more unwanted shells in the omelette than yoke.

One of the problems with the Australian films of late might be that they’re all starting to look the same. Even since Gregor Jordan put Bryan Brown in stubbies and handed him a shotty for “Two Hands”, and Eric Bana was given a reason to shoot Melbourne’s local hoons in “Chopper”, everyone wants in on the Australian crime comedy caper. From “The Hard Word”, to “Dirty Deeds” and “Risk”, it’s a genre that’s almost been done to death.

Having said that, Jonathan Teplitzky’s “Gettin’’ Square” is also an Australian crime comedy – but thankfully it’s got a few new attractive broaches for its simple jumper.

All the central characters in “Getting’ Square” are determined to go straight. “Wattsy” Wirth (Sam Worthington) is fresh out of the slammer and determined to lead a normal life. Recently paroled basket-case Johnny “Spit” Spitieri (David Wenham) is also looking to go straight, as is rehabilitated thug Darren “Dabba” Barrington (Timothy Spall), who’s finding it more difficult than he thought. Regrettably for the three guys, a newly formed Criminal Investigation Commission is breathing down their necks – even if they’re breathing away on them for no good reason, making any chance of going straight about as easy as playing pin the tail on the donkey with a real mare.

In a slick turn of events, the three men – and their cohorts – band together to shake the CIC for good, and in turn get justifiable revenge on their biggest foe, underworld boss Chicka Martin [Gary Sweet]. That’s the plan anyway – who’s to say they’re not going to get pulled in to headquarters for questioning first.

An Aussie “Oceans Eleven” more than anything, film doesn’t seem to really know where it’s going to begin with. But then, bam, David Wenham re-appears, hits the road running with an amazing comical performance, and the film’s on track. Wenham’s performance as a scrawny, malnutritioned, unsightly ferret of an ex-con – complete with stubby shorts, mullet and Cole sore on the lip – is one of the actor’s best performances to date. Suddenly, gone is the charismatic ‘Diver Dan’ from the hit series “Seachange”, and in his place, one of the most disgusting things to ever grace the screen. And it works. A scene where Spits slums his way around the court room, more concerned with whether or not he’s going to get his bus ride home, than the pressing charges at hand, is the film’s highlight.

But the film does seem to be about performances more than it does the rather broad stencil, and mercifully there’s a slew of great Aussie talent to provide it. Sam Worthington, who incongruously starred in the similar-themed “Dirty Deeds”, again proves himself one of Australia’s most interesting new performers with his earnest, affable performance as the film’s unlikely male protagonist. Freya Stafford, best known for her role on TV’s “White Collar Blue”, gives a sugary-sweet, but credible turn as the film’s love interest/rope-tugger of the lead lads. And Brit actor Timothy Spall is obviously having a great time in his well-rounded, and largely droll role of the former crook turned restaurateur, more concerned with how many calories he’s dropped this week than how many con’s he’s premeditated. Overall, it’s a fine cast, and with an interesting supporting cast too – Richard Carter, Aussie Joe Bugner, Ugly Dave Gray, Gretel Killeen – pickings are intriguing to say the least.

What also works for the film is the backdrop. You rarely see the Gold Coast [Sunny Queensland for the dilettante] used for the setting of an Australian crime caper and it’s refreshing. The place looks gorgeous – and in some respects it’s what alters the film from looking a dark, shadowy typical Aussie gangster film to a vigorous, tongue-in-cheek crime horse around.

If the film’s first had been as entertaining as the film’s second [it’s missing that something you just can’t put your finger on] “Getting’ Square” might have been even better than it is. But as it stands, it’s a persuasively funny, “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Mag-Wheels” of an Aussie comedy, where one man triumphantly pushes the film to a perceivably higher standard than it might otherwise had been.

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