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A comically lame quagmire of vilification and gratuitous violence.
To call Down Under (2016) a black comedy signals an intention to make light of something serious or controversial. But movie labels are all too often disguised marketing spin rather than accurate genre descriptions. Far from comedy, this film is a dystopian parody of an episode of Australian history that needs balanced understanding and nuance rather than exaggerated ridicule. It could have applied humour to lighten the portraits of racial bigotry but instead it creates a quagmire of gratuitous violence and comically lame racial, sexual and impairment vilification.
The opening scenes is the only time Down Under speaks with honesty and authenticity. Using archival footage of the 2005 Cronulla race riots overlaid with Christmas jingles, the stage is set for a clash of cultures that was seen around the world. The riots resulted from years of escalating tension between white locals who claimed 'ownership' of beautiful Cronulla beach and Lebanese groups from neighbouring suburbs wanting to share beach access. From this factual base, the film weaves a fictionalised account of two gangs of young men on opposing sides of the racial divide. With testosterone-fuelled honour at stake, the gangs escalate their violent rantings towards each other and cruise the streets hunting for supremacy. Along the way, they vilify everything and everyone so indiscriminately that are caricatures of aimless anger that bear no resemblance to real people. They are portrayed mostly as working class morons and hotheads whose constant screaming, swearing and physical abuse forms an endless spray of vitriol that makes this film an overcooked mess.
Down Under is a film that appears to have lost sight of its own purpose. If it was made to create humour out of violence then one-line clichés do little more than demonise stereotypes. If it was to offer insight into the cause of the riots then its fictional exaggerations undermine its credibility. If it was to portray the racist undercurrent of Australian culture then the absence of Indigenous people leaves it staring only at its own stereotypes. A wide chasm exists between the film's inspiration and execution, and whatever messages were intended are obscured by pushing creative limits into the realm of the absurd. The film leads towards an incoherent and implausible finale that fuses slapstick and violence without redemptive merit. It is disappointing to see such a lost opportunity to inform or entertain. The film's closing credits were a welcome sight.
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