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HORSEPLAY

SYNOPSIS:
Wannabe horse handler Max Mackendrick (Marcus Graham) marries into horsey money to propel his chances, but his wife Alicia (Tushka Bergen) and her wealthy dad, famous trainer Barry (Bill Hunter), have little more than contempt for him by the time heís barred for life from the racecourse for horse substitution. Unfazed and optimistic of a successful appeal, Max enlists his friendly minder, Harry (Jason Donovan) in a scheme to fix the Melbourne Cup so he can make enough money to go solo. The plan goes terribly wrong.†


Review by Andrew L. Urban:
You have to admire filmmakers who take on perhaps the toughest genre of film in a country like Australia where genre filmmaking is at best faltering and where the funding mechanisms donít cater for it, the experience isnít there on the ground and the budget canít support the script development required. Horseplay is an ambitious mid budget film that had a lot of appeal at script stage, a black comedy with murder and sex, as producer Martin Fabinyi puts it, embracing many uniquely Australian elements, from the Melbourne Cup to intimate social and cultural snapshots. The film is blessed with a great cast, who work their tits off for the cause, but there is a sense of ambiguity in the direction that keeps us at an uneasy distance from both the comedy and the black edge of the filmís elements. This results in some of the characters being dramatically structured, others being comedic. Likewise, the naturalistic, pop-comedy style of the filmís visual language is in conflict with its darker soul. Jason Donovanís is the standout performance here, totally real and edgy; Marcus Graham reveals a new and appealing flexibility, but they canít quite rescue the film from playing like a laboured joke. And Hugo Weaving finely read narration feels like an add-on to the script, which seems to weigh on the filmís entertainment ambitions.

Review by Louise Keller:
A lively and at times amusing black comedy, Horseplay leaves the gate with the very best intentions, yet doesnít quite make it to the winnersí circle. A script that jumbles together too many subplots and characters intent on murder and mayhem disperses much of the filmís promise. Stavros Kazantzidis and Allanah Zitserman, the team who brought us that delightful romantic comedy Russian Doll, have this time, traded romantic comedy for the very black variety; the project may have satisfied more as a comedy straight and simple. The set ups that play like a comedy of errors work very well, but scenes that should have been very funny Ė like moving bodies around in a wheelbarrow Ė flounder badly. Perhaps the characters, however flawed, are just too nice to sit credibly as murderers. Graham is a strong leading man with handsome features and winning manner, while Donovan simply lets everything rip in a top turn as the double-dealing, swindling, adulterous cad. Their scenes together provide the filmís most enjoyable moments and I felt genuinely sorry when Donovanís screen time ended. Misjudged direction fails to show the lead actresses in the best light, and while the script may allow plenty of partner swapping, I wished I cared more about who was doing what to whom. I did enjoy Bill Hunterís hard-nosed, successful horse trainer and Damien Richardsonís larrikin yobbo, however. Of course there are resonances in the story premise that echo with a prominent Australian racing family, but itís actually the elements of the relationships that work best for me. The scene when a nicotine patch suffices instead of a post-coital cigarette is a lovely touch, and I like throwaways like ĎOp Shop? OhÖ a Japanese designerí. Paddy Reardonís production design sets the mood and Nigel Westlakeís music keeps our toes in the stirrups. Hugo Weavingís narration feels rather like an add-on; his is an unnamed, disconnected voice that tells us what we should actually surmise by what we see.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 2

TRAILER
ON THE SET with Andrew Urban

HORSEPLAY (M)
(Aus)

CAST: Marcus Graham, Craig Beamer, Tushka Bergen, Abbie Cornish, Jason Donovan, Amanda Douge, Bill Hunter, Damien Richardson, Terence Donovan and narrated by Hugo Weaving

PRODUCER: Allanah Zitserman

DIRECTOR: Stavros Kazantzidis

SCRIPT: Stavros Kazantzidis, Allanah Zitserman

CINEMATOGRAPHER: David Eggby

EDITOR: Andrew MacNeil

MUSIC: Nigel Westlake

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Paddy Reardon

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: BVI

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 22, 2003

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: BVHE

VIDEO RELEASE: October 22, 2003







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