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Stiff (2004)

  Directed by: John Clarke
Written by: Shane Maloney
Starring: Mick Molloy, David Wenham
Links: Stiff on the IMDb
Genre: Drama

This movie gets: 6.00 (1 rating) Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

"Too much caper, not enough crime" - a review by mino

Normally, the words ‘Australian’ and ‘telemovie’, when combined, are enough to not only make me run away in the other direction very quickly, but also to make me start bleeding from the ears. Aussie made-for-TV flicks have, traditionally, been… well, bloody terrible. However, if there's one thing that's going to have me bum-on-seat in front of the telly on a Sunday night, it's the thought of an Aussie telemovie starring fair dinkum Australian acting legend David Wenham, especially where he's paired with comedian Mick Molloy. Good or bad, any movie with those two in has to be worth a look.

And, it turns out, it is.

Stiff is the first in a series of telemovies planned by Channel Seven around the works of Shane Maloney, an Australian author who writes crime novels set in Melbourne. The stories revolve around Murray Whelan (Wenham, in the movies), a young political adviser to the Victorian Government's Minister for Ethnic Affairs, Angelo Agnelli (the rather more spruced-up than usual Molloy). Though in theory his job is to sit in the Minister's electoral office and do general administrative tasks, as well as attend party meetings and deal with the grievances of Agnelli's consituents, Whelan finds himself becoming something of an unwilling detective, getting dragged into the investigation of various crimes — in this case, a murder at a meatworks — and has to improvise as best he can.

First things first — Wenham is fabulous. The Whelan character is absolutely perfectly matched to Wenham, and they complement each other beautifully. Whelan is basically a big loser — unlucky in work, in love, in building repairs, and in life generally — but he's one of the more endearing losers going around. He is continually copping it from all angles, but he takes it on the chin with self-deprecating humour much like Wenham's own. Maloney and screenwriter/director John Clarke (another Aussie comedy great) do a wonderful job with the character of Whelan, making him one of the most lovable and entertaining characters you'll see in a long time. Perhaps the best aspect of the character is what a total anti-hero he is: just a down-to-earth regular guy. He's a struggling single parent who is so astoundingly normal that you can't help but like him, and that's a wonderful achievement from both the writing team and from Wenham himself.

Likewise, the dialogue is absolutely superb — clever, witty, and lean. This is no surprise, given that Clarke is deservedly famous for his intelligent, insightful, and genuinely funny writing, particularly in his TV collaborations with Bryan Dawe — whether the mock interviews they used to do on A Current Affair or on The Games, the pair's sitcom/satire which surely ranks as one of the best in Australian history. The humour is generally very good, though I confess some of the physical humour was skating on thin ice for me, being (as it was) sometimes a bit second-rate and only really saved by Wenham's fine job actually executing it.

So pretty good, right? Well, yes and no. While the writing and the acting are fine, probably the most important aspect of a movie — particularly a crime caper, albeit a light-hearted one — is the plot, and the plot is where Stiff falls a bit flat. While it's at least marginally original, and quite interesting, it just doesn't carry the movie along very well. Not having read Maloney's original novel, I can't comment on that aspect, but it seems to me that the fault may lie with Clarke as director. Not nearly enough time is spent on either explaining the plot twists or with introducing and explaining the characters themselves — not just ‘so why is he doing that?’ but rather ‘which one is he again?’. I like to think that I'm at least as intelligent as most people, but I had a very hard time following the movie, not because I'm a bit slow but because I think a bit too much reliance was placed on Wenham's character, and too much time therefore devoted to the comedic and entertainment aspects of Whelan rather than the mystery which is kind of the point of the whole excercise. Perhaps Clarke's inexperience as a director is the problem here; we'll see if the subsequent movies improve.

Very entertaining, though not really the top-class crime caper I feel that, with effort, it could have been.

mino gives this movie 6 out of 10.
Review created on Thu 8 Jul 2004

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Number of reviews: 1
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Reader comments

  1. I agree with the reviewer above in that while the characters were engaging (Wenham in particular being superb), the plot wasn't as fleshed as it may have been. Not having read the novel, I am assuming it was clearer there but it didn't make it through Clarke's otherwise outstanding adaptation.

    Rating given: 7

    A comment from Spanner on Tue 13 Jul 2004 21:22 #

  2. Enjoyed it immensely for David Wenham`s performance but had to watch it twice to get the plot! A bit slow for the first hour but then it picked up a bit! I`ve heard that the novel is a bit like that too! The Brush off should be better!

    Rating given: 9

    A comment from Jo on Sun 19 Sep 2004 08:26 #

Those who have commented give this movie: 8.00 (2 ratings)

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