Thursday, November 04, 2010

Outback High Noon: Red Hill

It is a land of wide open spaces—Oz, not the American plains. Still, it ought to be a fitting environment for a contemporary western shoot-out. There is even an indigenous killer on the warpath. However, it is the sheriff (technically an inspector in Aussie parlance) who wears the black hat in Patrick Hughes’s politically correct Red Hill (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

For the sake of his pregnant wife, Constable Shane Cooper requested a transfer to sleepy Red Hill. If truth be told, the town is slowly dying, but his new boss, “Old Bill,” is not about to embrace “changiness.” Alas, the earnest young constable makes a bad first impression when he shows up for his first day without his sidearm, because he could not remember which box he packed it in (that’s right, he packed his gun).

It turns out he might need that piece. Jimmy Conway, an aboriginal tracker and all around bad cat convicted of murder under dubious circumstances, has broken out of prison and is presumed to be heading to Red Hill for some old school revenge. As Old Bill says: “[When] Jimmy Conway rides into this town, he brings Hell with him.”

Indeed, Hill has a pretty rock solid Ozploitation foundation and for a while it is perversely amusing to watch Conway carve up his prey. However, Hill must have more walking scenes than any other film released this year. Too quickly it falls into a predictable pattern. Conway bonks Cooper over the noggin, dumping him on the outskirts of town, from where the constable staggers back to the action, only to find Conway’s fresh carnage when he finally arrives.

Frankly, Hill can be eye-rollingly PC as well. It quickly becomes clear Conway must have been framed for murder, even though he seems to be a natural born killer from what we see. Not that we are supposed to blame him—Old Bill and the town done him wrong, as none too subtle stand-ins for Australia writ large.

Hill has two things going for it. Steve Bisley is a thoroughly entertaining villain, chomping on the scenery with visible glee as Old Bill. More or less reprising his breakthrough role as an Aboriginal vengeance seeker in Fred Schepisi’s 1978 The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Tom E. Lewis’s Conway easily outdoes the badness of Denny Trejo’s Machete. Unfortunately, Ryan Kwanten is a light-weight, colorless protagonist, who underwhelms in every scene.

Despite showing early promise as a tawdry revenge thriller, Hill is ultimately undermined by its pretensions. As a result, it wastes a great villain and a perfectly good anti-hero. No Mad Dog Morgan, Hill opens tomorrow (11/5) in New York at the AMC Empire 25 and Chelsea Clearview.