Let's Get Skase

Reviewed By Andrew Howe
Posted 10/31/01 08:39:10

"Let's not."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

According to a recent article in a major Australian newspaper, if Aussie filmmakers are serious about achieving international recognition they need to pay a little more attention to the needs of the foreign market. If we assume that this is true (and, whatever one believes about the merits of releasing films that are indistinguishable from Hollywood product, it’s difficult to argue with the logic), then Lachy Hulme and Matthew George evidently have little interest in seeing their names bathed in the neon lights of L.A., since Let’s Get Skase will mean very little to anyone who hasn’t spent the last decade on the world’s largest island.

The facts are these: in 1991 an entrepreneur by the name of Christopher Skase watched his business empire collapse around his ears, leaving millions in unpaid debts. Skase’s response to accusations of mismanagement was to flee to Majorca, where he spent his days by the pool of his Spanish mansion, claiming he was too sick to be extradited. His recent death proved that he really was suffering from a terminal illness, but for the period of his exile practically every one of his countrymen assumed he was faking it (this belief, incidentally, is critical to the film’s plot, making his demise rather untimely for the scriptwriters).

Skase’s crimes were comparatively minor (compared to the likes of rape, murder or pillaging), but the Australian mentality conspired to make him one of our most universally hated expatriates. Our origins as a convict colony often lead us to harbour a certain affection for anyone who thumbs their nose at authority, but we also expect the perpetrators to answer for their crimes. Ned Kelly died with his boots on, Alan Bond (the other big-time failed tycoon from the 80’s) did hard time at Her Majesty’s pleasure, but not only did Skase avoid taking responsibility for his actions, he lied about his condition into the bargain (or so we thought). As the opening voiceover so aptly puts it: “We didn’t hate him because he was a criminal; we hated him because he was a bullshit artist”.

Since the scriptwriters assume that you detest Skase as much as they do, international cinemagoers will be scratching their heads for a sizeable proportion of the proceedings. Australian residents, however, will be well aware of the plot hatched by a talk show host to hire a bounty hunter to bring Skase to justice, and that’s where the narrative kicks in. Peter Dellasandro (Lachy Hulme), a wheeling-dealing ethnic stereotype beloved of Australian comics since the time of the Federation, convinces a band of losers to participate in a mission to retrieve vital information on Skase’s business dealings. What follows is a light-hearted romp that doesn’t amount to much, but is significantly more palatable than its pedigree promises.

The script (by George and Hulme) doesn’t break any new ground – it’s a by-the-numbers affair which won’t have anyone rolling in the aisles, but it resists the urge to sink into lowbrow farce. There’s the odd moment of inspiration (some of the dialogue actually borders on wit, and a tense sequence involving laser grids wouldn’t be out of place in a Hollywood blockbuster), but what prevents the film from being entirely forgettable is the commitment of Hulme and Alex Dimitriades.

Hulme is essentially an unknown, but on the strength of his performance he may not remain that way for long. His natural charm, spot-on comic timing and general exuberance are a pleasure to watch, and placing him opposite the intense and diminutive Dimitriades was a masterstroke. Putting aside the crime against humanity that was The Heartbreak Kid, he’s best known for his dramatic roles in the likes of Blue Murder and Head On, and the script wisely leaves the comic grandstanding to Hulme, allowing Dimitriades to act like he’s scored a role in a high-powered commando flick. There are moments when he almost makes you forget that the entire concept is patently ridiculous, and his performance reminds us why he’s one of the most underrated Australian actors currently working the local circuit.

I wouldn’t like to give anyone the impression that Let’s Get Skase is some kind of Australian comic masterwork – the pedestrian script never rises above its one-note concept, the rest of the cast fade into the background (though Craig McLachlan has his moments), and the actual raid isn’t sufficiently exciting to entice action fans into the cinema. However, it’s an inoffensive little flick that’s worth catching on video with a few mates and a few more beers, but only if your living room has its foundations on Australian soil.

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