|© 2007 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
One of the great pleasures of movie-going is discovering a talented
newcomer, whether it be an actor or someone behind the camera. In 1994,
Stephan Elliott wrote and directed the tale of an unlikely trio of drag queens
who travel across Australia. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
proved to be a popular hit and featured winning performances by Guy Pearce
and Hugo Weaving and a spectacular one by Terence Stamp (who for some
unknown reason failed to receive an Oscar nomination). The film did win an
Academy Award for Lizzy Gardiner's outlandish costumes. Now, after four
years, the director has returned with Welcome to Woop Woop, which also
revolves around a collection of colorful eccentrics.
The story is your basic fish-out-of-water one, in this case, with Johnathon
Schaech as the guppy. He plays a low-level con man whose scheme backfires
and he seeks asylum from the mob in Australia. Driving across the continent,
he offers a ride to a young woman named Angie (the fetching Susie Porter)
who uses her charms to seduce him. After they've made love in every
conceivable way, Schaech's Teddy wakes up in a cage. He's now married to
Angie and they've returned to her hometown of Woop Woop. Teddy soon learns
there are certain rules about living in this strange town, whose sole support
seems to be the manufacturing of dog food from dead kangaroos.
The iron-fisted leader of the town is Daddy-O, played by Rod Taylor, the
former heartthrob leading man now a grizzled character actor. Anyone who tries
to leave the town is shot. Teddy soon feels trapped in this world where the
only music allowed is by Rodgers and Hammerstein and the town's idea of fun
is screening prints of South Pacific or The Sound of Music replete with
audience participation along the lines of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
When Angie announces she's pregnant, Teddy plans his escape; first by
attempting to restore his van, then by plotting with his sister-in-law (Dee
Smart) who is also chafing under the restrictions. The denouement revolves
around a legendary kangaroo, a mythical creature of aboriginal lore known as
"The Big Red".
Elliott knows how to depict oddball characters well and he obviously cares
about the individuals, the problem is the audience doesn't always. Schaech's
Teddy is a two-bit con who finds himself conned when he gets to Australia, but
there's something lightweight about him as a performer. With his full lips and
dark good looks, one could understand why Angie wants to turn him into a sex
slave, but at heart, something crucial (like charisma) is missing. Rod Taylor
proves an effective villain, but he's saddled with a long expository speech
explaining how the town came to be that, while necessary to understanding
the film's plot, stops it cold. Susie Porter's Angie and Dee Smart's Krystal
hardly seem like they are from the same planet let alone are sisters, yet each
tries gamely to do what she can with her role. For the sharp eyed, there are
quick cameo appearances by Tina Louise (who looks as if she was just rescued
from the island — time and plastic surgery have been kind to her), Barry
Humphries (better known by his alter egos of Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les
Patterson) and Paul Mercurio, who here sports a blond dye-job and minces it up
as the town's silent hairdresser.
Director Stephan Elliott has had mixed results with the three films he's
helmed. Frauds (1993) was a flawed but fascinating character study of an
insurance investigator who blackmailed his clients. Elliott had some difficulty in
maintaining the black comic tone of the film. Similarly, there were moments of
Priscilla that were staged awkwardly, and now with Welcome to Woop Woop,
he falls into similar traps. The absurdity of Teddy's predicament could have led
to a black comedy and there are hints of what might have been in Taylor's
performance. But Elliott seems to chicken out and go for the cheap laugh or
the cutesy moment. And the car chase finale is staged badly, with cheesy
special effects to boot. There were some parts of this film that were funny
and, while I'm not sorry I visited Woop Woop, but it's not a place to which I'm
itching to return.
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality and language,
and for some drug content
Running time: 97 mins.