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And Heck's Coming With Him

By Brian Prisco | Film | November 12, 2010 |

By Brian Prisco | Film | November 12, 2010 |

There’s nothing wrong with Patrick Hughes western thriller Red Hill, but there’s nothing exceptional about it either. It’s a throwback gunslinger flick set in the outback of Australia, with decent performances, a fairly boilerplate story that furls out well enough, and a moderate amount of shoot-em’-up violence. It’s a solid effort, but it just feels so restrained and unexceptional it’s hard to really get excited about it. While this might only be a second-cousin to the Blue-Tongue Films spirit, I’m so spoiled by the taught tension and intensity that when I see something that had every opportunity to flare up into brilliance but just doesn’t, I’m nonplussed. It’s the cinematic equivalent of an everyday hour long commute. There’s no surprises, and whether you happen to hit a break in the traffic or it’s bumper to bumper, you’re still going to end up in the same general place, give or take 15 minutes. It’s constantly teasing you with the promise of suspenseful set-ups, and then just kind of settling in to a rote revenge flick. They draw Chekhov’s gun and flourish it so much during the entirety of the film that when they finally get around to shooting it, you don’t really care who gets killed so long as the play’s over and you can go get a coffee.

A scarred aboriginal prisoner named Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis) escapes from prison, where he was confined for the murder of his wife, and heads for the small rural outback town of Red Hill to murder all the people who put him away. The hard-ass chief inspector Old Bill (Steve Bisley) gathers up a posse to cover all possible entrances to the town, with instructions to shoot on sight. Begrudgingly, he assigns a spot to his newest officer Constable Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten), who recently moved to the quieter outpost for the benefit of his pregnant wife Alice (Claire Van Der Boom). Cooper was shot on duty because he refused to draw his weapon on an armed assailant when he thought he could defuse the situation with talk. And now that you’ve emptied all the Legos out of the box and you’ve got the general picture in front of you, even the most Kool-Aid addled preschooler can pretty much put together where this is going.

Kwanten, better known for his role as the exuberant Jason Stackhouse on HBO’s “True Blood,” finally gets a chance to play bland and mediocre like grade A Josh Hartnett or Ryan Phillippe. Any of the buoyance or charm of Sookie’s bro is gray-washed out for this bumpkin aw-shuckish quiet sense of honor, like Lucas Black sans angst. It’s a fine performance because it’s pretty much machine-pressed from every other young deputy on the job up against the gruff and weathered Godzilla of his senior officer. Steve Bisley has been such a strong character player that he’s practically got the sunbaked esprit de corps of Robert Duvall and Wilford Brimley caked into his squinty face. Tommy Lewis is like the Predator ala Randall “Tex” Cobb in Raising Arizona. He never speaks. He’s like a professional wrestler in a leather longcoat moving like a marine-park shark, never preying on food when he’s pretty sure he’ll be fed. Jimmy Conway is less a dangerous animal than horror movie stalker, moving through shadows with his shotgun cocked blazing away at the arsenal of assholes laid out before him until he gets down to the last girl.

Patrick Hughes’ script seems to pride itself on elaborating on some sort of wild gimmick and then purposefully not using it. The deputy’s got a pregnant wife home alone the entire time, but she’s never in any danger, or even really concerned. A rogue panther loosed on the cattle makes one brief fleeting appearance without every getting utilized — except for the delicious irony of Jason Stackhouse being threatened by a panther, the same irony that named the wife Alice Cooper. The frustration of waiting for the other shoe to drop is easily misinterpreted by Hughes as building tension and illusion. If you wave your left hand so you can make something appear in the right, that’s artistry; if you wave your left hand and then put it back in your pocket, that’s Alanis Morrissette. And more’s the pity, because Red Hill isn’t a bad film otherwise. It’s just like expecting to win an all-expenses paid cruise on a game show and instead getting a really nice washer and dryer set. There’s nothing wrong with appliances, but it’s not really the bounty you had hoped for.

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