You Can't Stop the Murders

Reviewed By Stephen Groenewegen
Posted 03/11/03 17:01:49

"Y.M.C.A (Young Male Comics Acting)"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

In sleepy West Village, the townsfolk are preparing for the annual “Fun Fest” and line-dancing championship when mutilated corpses begin piling up in alarming numbers. First, the decapitated body of a biker is discovered, then a local construction worker, sailor, cowboy and Indian are all murdered. You don’t have to have lived through the 1970s to recognise that this is the lineup of camp disco act The Village People. And that one of the laidback local cops (Gary Eck, Akmal Saleh) is next on the list.

Isn’t this a terrific premise for a low-budget comedy? The three leads - Gary Eck, Akmal Saleh and Anthony Mir - are all stand-up comics who’ve worked together for more than 10 years. They collaborated on the screenplay and Mir directed (his first film). Their rapport is evident on screen, especially between Eck and Saleh. There’s also an element of anxiety in their performances, probably from their stand-up background. To win over a crowd night after night takes determination and guts, but more than a little desperation too.

Gary Eck and Akmal Saleh play Constable Gary and Constable Akmal, best mates of the sort that finish each other’s sentences (and yes, several main characters share their first names with the actors playing them). Constable Gary’s shy and sensible, a likeable country policeman who takes his duties seriously. Akmal’s the wisecracking, none-too-bright sidekick who’s always leaving his gun behind. They make a terrific double act. By contrast, Mir is a little uncomfortable as the flash, trigger-happy Sydney detective who thinks he’s in Miami Vice.

As director, Mir nicely captures the slow-paced feel of West Village (Village people are being slain, geddit?). Not all of the gags hit their mark, but enough did to keep me laughing most of the way through. Mir works in movie references aplenty, notably to Strictly Ballroom during the line-dancing finals, and there are cameo appearances by fellow comics Jimeoin, Sandman and The Umbilical Brothers among others. Thankfully, they don’t throw the film off balance, or disrupt the mildly satirical and dryly humorous tone. Also to its credit, the film avoids being sadistic, despite the plot being based around a series of grisly killings.

I wouldn’t blame you for thinking the juxtaposition of dancing and Aussie blokes dried up as a source of comedy 10 years ago. But when Gary is line dancing for all his worth to “I Go to Rio” at the climax, his irrepressible smile and blissful expression are infectious. The unassuming Gary loses his inhibitions and awkwardness on the dance floor. Rather than become arrogant when he’s in his stride (like Travolta in Saturday Night Fever), he’s sheepish about his sudden sharpness. The scene should be plain ridiculous, but Eck brings it off with a powerful and impressive blend of leading man charisma and comic goofy charm.

You Can’t Stop the Murders blessedly forgoes taking its musical cues from The Village People. Instead, three songs composed by Peter Allen feature prominently on the soundtrack (“Rio”, “I Honestly Love You” and “Don’t Cry Out Loud”). Comedy is probably the hardest genre to get right, but Anthony Mir, Gary Eck and Akmal Saleh manage to make it look effortless. I hope this team has enough jokes in them for another film.

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