Sample People

(Clinton Smith, Australia, 2000)


2000 was not a great year for Australian cinema. In one sense, the appearance of Sample People set a welcome benchmark: local production could not possibly sink any lower than this.


Clinton Smith’s feature debut (at age 27; he has since worked on other projects in various departments, but directed nothing further) is a garish attempt to tap into the energy and style of the rave scene. It uses the Short Cuts (1993) formula of intercutting between various characters and storylines that finally merge – which is perhaps the single greatest cliché of contemporary independent filmmaking.


The film presents a panorama of youthful types: the lovestruck, the ambitious, the oppressed and the doped. They all circulate around a few streets of Adelaide made (not too successfully) to pass as inner-city Sydney. Connecting the characters, ultimately, is a rave event and a listless Quentin Tarantino-style intrigue involving a mean criminal, TT (David Field).


Unfortunately, Smith’s idea of how to make a tough, hip, streetwise film seems to boil down to having every character behave with relentless attitude – striking poses, snarling, talking dirty and waving guns. Attempts at multicultural humour – especially the glimpses of the jolly philosopher Phil (Ghandi Macintyre) in his kebab shop – are excruciating.


For about its first two minutes, Sample People looks promising. There is some eye-catching design and cinematography. A couple of the young performers (Joel Edgerton, Paula Arundell) have real presence. For Australian pop music buffs, the modern versions of classics by Russell Morris and Sherbet (sic) are easy on the ear.


The script, however, is abominable. Once the narrative structure is set up, the plot goes absolutely nowhere. Instead, we kill precious time with Joey (Justin Rosniak) and Gus (Matthew Wilkinson), an unbearable duo who talk like wannabe gangstas. A drug-trip-cum-orgy scene in a cemetery is an all-time lowpoint.


The most familiar performers come off worst of all. Ben Mendelsohn as the predatory, bisexual John – mincing and whining his way through the entire movie – is an embarrassment to himself and to the audience. Kylie Minogue as Jess (TT’s “property”) is meant to be variously mean, sexy and tenacious. But she projects less psychological depth than Jessica Rabbit.

© Adrian Martin May 2000

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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