After playing wingman to Flight of the Conchords and salesman for many others (as well as appearances in Jim Carrey's Yes Man and Brit comedy The Boat That Rocked), Rhys Darby finally gets a film to call his own.
While his post-Murray screen career has largely depended on his FOTC role or his manic stand-up persona, here, he's the straight guy in a very straight movie. Though the film gives him a lame, if very cute, duck as a sidekick, chirpy goofy English actress Sally Hawkins as a love interest and a Queen soundtrack which does threaten to turn this into We Will Rock You: The Movie.
But the songs generate some of the biggest laughs in what is an endearingly funny, if sugar-coated local romantic comedy.
And one which seems to have a surfeit of supporting characters, and a weak opening among its flaws. Oh and some intrusive product placement. It is a very nice advertisement for Auckland too, , though it might be best to see it outside the city where your fellow cinema patrons aren't cooing "'oooh look Northcote" to each other.
And in one memorable scene it puts a fine case for a cycle lane on the harbour bridge.
With his various comic foils, web-footed and otherwise, it allows Darby to restrain himself and carry the film as its romantic lead, one who doesn't have much in common with Hugh Grant, as has been the film's sales pitch, but whoe resembles a distant cousin to Hugh Jackman.
Darby is Doug, an maintenance contractor whose live-in girlfriend Susan (Shortland Street's Faye Smythe) has ditched him for his lack of ambition. His post break-up moping is interrupted by the arrival on his roof of the equally depressed New Zealand shelduck. Doug takes it under his own wing, while seeking the advice of English-import Auckland Zoo ornithologist Holly (Hawkins) as well as an eccentric vet played by Aussie screen stalwart Bryan Brown (who clearly has a thing for New Zealand animal movies after Dean Spanley). Doug and single mother Holly hit it off but are soon face complications care of exes, property developer best mates, offspring and errant adopted fauna whose apparent flightlessness may, like Doug's inability to "move on" with his life, all be in the head. Wow, life lesson there. Thankfully Freddie Mercury and co are waiting in the wings to loudly distract from things taking a turn for the profound. And how the film recycles Queen's greatest film hit to help underscore its big finale is a comedic masterstroke.
That's just one scene which shows the crowd-pleasing touch that director Paul Murphy and screenwriter Nick Ward brought to their previous Second-Hand Wedding. They don't exactly reinvent the the rom-com, even with a duck as its match-maker. But what they do with the formula makes for a film with its own quirky, quack-y charms. Expect this one to take flight.
Verdict: Rhys fits the bill in duck-inspired rom-com
Cast: Rhys Darby, Sally Hawkins, Emily Barclay
Director: Paul Murphy
Running time: 102 mins