Newcastle

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Venue: Sydney Film Festival

Sun-drenched and hormonally charged, the Australian surf movie "Newcastle" boasts an almost fetishistic amount of teenage skin. But dramatically it's a wipe out. Its musty dysfunctional-family storyline stands in stark contrast to the breezy fun of the visuals, although there's a hint of freshness in the casual integration of a gay teen.

Cinematographer Richard Michalak's gorgeous water-based action shots guarantee the young target audience will want to head straight out for surf lessons, but there's even less dramatic heft here than in the superior "Blue Crush."

The addition of a couple of beach babes to the testosterone-heavy cast of unknowns should lift commercial prospects when "Newcastle" is released domestically later in the year, ensuring there really is something for everyone in the way of eye candy.

Jesse (Lachlan Buchanan) is a particularly sulky teen who lives in the industrial city of Newcastle, a coastal paradise marred only by the coal tankers squatting on the horizon.

He sees victory in the upcoming Junior Surf Pro as a way of avoiding the fate that befell his bad-boy older brother Victor (Reshad Strik,) a once-promising surfer now bitter divorced dad working on one of the ships.

An early setback provides the perfect excuse for a diversionary weekend away, so Jesse and his buddies round up some local girls and head for a remote beach to camp in the dunes.

Jesse's embarrassed to be joined by his emo twin brother Fergus (Xavier Samuels), who is self-consciously grappling with his sexuality, but all is soon forgotten in a wild spree of youthful flirting, surfing and horseplay.

Writer-director Dan Castle, making his feature debut, is mostly content to let the good times roll along in this fashion, rudely interrupted by a rogue wave and a tragedy, before winding things up with a classic sports-film cliche.

With its erratic pubescent mood swings, "Newcastle" is like an Antipodean episode of "The O.C.", albeit with big-screen production values and photography so tactile you can almost feel the saltwater on your skin.

Production companies: Film Finance Corporation Australia, IFF/CINV and Newcastle Pictures, in association with 3 Dogs & a Pony and Shadowfire Entertainment. Cast: Lachlan Buchanan, Xavier Samuel, Reshad Strik, Shane Jacobson, Barry Otto. Director/screenwriter: Dan Castle. Executive producers: Charles Hannah, Megumi Fukasawa, Satoru Iseki, Akira Ishii, Nick Carpenter. Co-executive producers: Mike Thomas, Jonathan Page. Producer: Naomi Wenck. Director of photography: Richard Michalak. Production designer: Marc Barold. Music: Michael Yezerski. Costume designer: Catherine Wallace. Editor: Rodrigo Balart. Sales: Icon Distribution.

No MPAA rating, 106 minutes.


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