Tepid fourth adaptation of much-filmed local yarn-spinner


The stories of Ronald Hugh Morrieson helped New Zealand film get up to speed in the 1980s. Of the four novels he wrote in the previous decades, three hit the big screen in quick succession -

The Scarecrow


Came a Hot Friday

were local hits in 82 and 84, while

Pallet on the Floor

in 86 went largely unloved.



has never made it to the screen indicates its cinematic potential wasn't great.

Unfortunately, the long-awaited result rather confirms this. It's likeable enough around the edges for its attempted recreation of Morrieson's world of 1930s South Taranaki and the amusing scene-stealing performance of Jemaine Clement as the helium-voiced "Spook", one of the various scoundrels involved in its plot of small-town blackmail, murder and madness.

But it's a film of listless energy, and unsteady performances - especially Australian comedian Heath Franklin, who, as head scoundrel Mervyn Toebeck, can't quite cope with verbosity of Morrieson's character.

Director Jason Stutter doesn't lack for visual style - think the Coen brothers'

Miller's Crossing


Barton Fink

turning up in Hawera (an area where it seems the locals huddle around coal ranges even though it's Christmas).

But Stutter seems less in command of his cast. While Franklin's duplicitous Mervyn isn't convincing, young Hayden Frost as Cedric Williamson, the meek innocent dragged into his new best friend's blackmail scheme, can't quite make his presence felt either.

So it becomes the sort of film where the ratbag lead characters just aren't charming enough to engage the sympathies. And the lethal quandary they find themselves in after blackmailing the various local adulterers comes with no real sense of peril.

A subplot involving Cedric's mute, presumably mad, father Martin (Tim Finn in Monty Python mode) offers some sideline amusement. The tower of scrap he's constructing in the frontyard of their dilapidated mansion is something to see, even if it looks like its builder will burst into

Six Months in a Leaky Boat

from its crow's nest any minute.

But just as that tower is a creaky and overly ambitious so, too, is the film. It's fitfully entertaining and at least it completes the Morrieson box set. But that's all.


Jason Stutter


Jemaine Clement, Heath Franklin, Hayden Frost, Tim Finn Director: Jason Stutter


M (violence and offensive language)

Running time:

98 mins