13 September 1999 | Steve-176
The latest Australian film Siam Sunset is a mixed bag, a blend of styles and ideas, often attractive and entertaining but as a whole pretty sloppy. But there's enough there to ensure a pretty rosy sunset.
An English paint technologist (that's new!), miserable after the on screen, bizarre, death of his wife (remember this is a comedy) wins a bus tour from Adelaide to Darwin. The other tourists are ugly Aussies.
Once the quirky Australian flavour is established, most effectively by Roy Billing as Bill Leach the tour bus operator from hell, predictably, the tour becomes a comic nightmare, and a rather formulaic one in spite of some surprising plot details.
The English fish out of water in our bush theme has become something of a tradition in recent Australian films. Oscar And Lucinda, Welcome To Woop Woop, Sirens and even Priscilla Queen Of The Desert where the proper, effete and English Terrence Stamp drag queen tries to make sense of outback customs spring to mind.
Getting back to nature, or at least nearly perishing in the Australian desert seems to be considered to be a sure way to personal growth according to this genre. And not just for foreigners.
On this particular bus to hell, an Australian Vietnamese, an atrocious singer songwriter, a masculine female army reservist, an overbearing tour bus operator, assorted be holidayed subrubanites and an urban lass on the run, face comic, sometimes ghastly dusty terror and learn from the experience.
But for the most part the bit players aren't afforded enough interest by first time feature director John Polsen. They're just character bit players in a film full of bit playing plot elements.
Danielle Cormack (the pregnant lead in Topless Women Talk About Their Lives) plays Grace, the female foil for our pommie paint specialist Perry played by Linus Roache (Priest). She's stolen a lot of money from her crooked doctor boyfriend Martin (Ian Bliss) and to escape joins the bus tour.
She has the look of jail about her from the start, a hardness that is believable and more remarkable given her very different role and demeanor in Topless. Grace and Perry are effective even if they have to make do with some terrible scenes, especially one where they decide to throw paint against a wall.
Some of the set ups just don't work, some are very effective. The elimination of the head villain is memorable but his character is for the most part far too obvious.
Siam Sunset begins with an atrocious factory scene, a poorly imagined car washing (would you believe) sequence and then a strange death. But I can't stand car washing or room painting scenes featuring Paltrow young love!
Hopes of another Sweetie or Love Serenade, Death In Brunswick or at least Welcome To Woop Woop sprang to mind; macabre Australian black comedies, but Siam Sunset only gave hints.
John Polsen (the gay boy in The Sum Of Us) just flirted with that and with about six other genres and left us with a film that was much less than the sum of its parts.