Among Australian cinema's many forgotten minor efforts is David Caesar's Greenkeeping (1993), an eccentric comedy about the quaint world of lawn bowls.
Where that film took the David Lynch-inspired angle and looked for oddities of behaviour and architecture, performer Mick Molloy's feature debut Crackerjack aims to celebrate the heart of old, white, Anglo Australia.
The project has been carefully designed by director Paul Moloney and co-writer Richard Molloy to show off the comedian's rough, irascible charm. Pressured into involvement with the Cityside Bowling Club, Jack (Molloy) slowly comes not only to respect his elders and be a nicer guy, but also to take a stand against the corporate enemy, Bernie (John Clarke).
Crackerjack is a mixture of good-natured humour and some very creaky storytelling. A subplot involving a marijuana stash at the Club is especially clumsily handled. Too many jokes are allowed to dribble on interminably, or dutifully explained long after we get their point. But Ken Sallows' editing gives the film a nice, leisurely rhythm suited to its milieu.
In a real-life re-run of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), stand-up comedians have colonised virtually every corner of Australian culture. No variety show, sports broadcast or awards night is complete without a shambling comic who apparently believes that his or her least inspired ad lib is a laugh riot.
Mercifully, the big screen remains the one site that cannot so easily conquered by this horde of would-be comedians. In America, alumni of the Saturday Night Live school sometimes have the right idea about how to make the transition from television to cinema. Their feature films are as unreal and artificial as their short skits, which works wonders when the results are as inspired as Albert Brooks' Real Life (1979) or Molly Shannon's Superstar (1999).
In Australia, alas, comedians internalise our film industry's retrograde preoccupation with character-driven, essentially naturalistic stories. This not only results in many flat, lifeless, plodding movies, but also places a particular burden on the performers. They can no longer simply be themselves, they must be able to act.
Crackerjack certainly fares better than recent local misfires like The Nugget (2002) or The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course (2002). Veteran actors including Bill Hunter, Monica Maughan, Frank Wilson and Lois Ramsey bring a sly charm to their roles, and the film does not condescend to the elderly. Clarke has honed his monotonal, tight-lipped schtick perfectly.
Molloy mainly manages to stay in character, despite some silly, posturing moments. Judith Lucy, however, seems especially uncomfortable and out of her depth in the thankless role of journalist Nance.
© Adrian Martin November 2002