There's no shred of doubt that both The Project star Josh Thomson and powerhouse production team thedownlowconcept are a winning combo for comedy in New Zealand. They've proven their worth time and time again from the criminally-underrated Hounds to the gargantuan success of Friday night panel show 7 Days. I will never forget doing that sacred silent cry-laugh at their iconic 48 Hours competition-winning short Brown Peril under the twinkling lights of The Civic, and encourage you all to look it up if you haven't seen it already.

With all that considered, it is with high expectations that the same team have delivered their first feature-length film in Gary of the Pacific, a comedy set on a remote, rapidly-sinking island. Josh Thomson plays the titular role of Gary Vasisi, a prodigal son sent as a youngster from the island to New Zealand to get a degree, earn his millions and the subsequent respect of his family. He doesn't manage much of that as the opening montage shows us, settling for being a dreary realtor and constant disappointment to his unbelievably posh American wife (Megan Stevenson).

Returning home to the islands to be there for his dying father and chief (played by David Fane), Gary finds himself thrust into pending power, responsibility and, most importantly, money. Using his new chiefly riches, Gary sets about planning the Pacific wedding of his girlfriend's high-maintenance dreams. There are some other sub-plots swirling around there - his dad's burgeoning presence in the afterlife and the ever-rising sea levels - but for the most part it's all gearing towards the big day.

I'll tell you this straight up: there's a lot of bum in this movie. Bum within the first five minutes, in fact. Thomson is no stranger to playing his body for laughs and we are reminded of this throughout as the island heat gets the better of him. Beyond bums, the sight gags dabble in the grotesque at times, from a penis-piercing to a pulverised dog. Touted as a "shock comedy", these moments should come as no surprise, but often fall flat or seem jarring when interspersed between casual conversations. But perhaps one can never be prepared for a penis-piercing.


Luckily, shocks are by no means the only technique deployed from the joke toolbox. As a grizzled, slightly-delusional dude, Thomson thrives when playing with mundane everyday dialogue. An early highlight for me was an inexplicably long repetition of the phrase "cafe au lait" when beginning a work day, reminiscent of the way Thomson so skilfully hangs jokes in the air on The Project and 7 Days. Fane proves he still has his comedic stripes in his intermittent appearances, and Stevenson's hen's night game of Truth or Dare manages to gently pierce the surface of what awkward horror can arise when cultures clash. Best symbolised by Gary's straining girdle, these alluded themes never really rip through the seams and let it all hang out, which feels like a missed opportunity.

Audiences will delight in a bevy of local comedy talent, a cross section of hall-of-famers like Leigh Hart and exciting up-and-comers weirdos like Sanjay Patel. It's also worth praise for a genuinely stunning background that nearly puts Moana to shame, beautifully shot. Sure, Gary and the Pacific has enough in it to enjoy, but you can't help but sense at times that it is simply treading safe waters instead of taking the plunge.

Showing now, rated M

3/5 stars