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Fans of the delightfully dotty Flight of the Conchords are likely to react with bafflement to star Bret McKenzie’s first lead role in a feature film. It’s a screwball manslaughter comedy from New Zealand and, while the nuttier, surrealist elements beloved of Conchords devotees are present, the humor is sadly M.I.A.
Director Robert Sarkies’ off-key third feature, based on a screenplay by his brother Duncan, adapting his own 2009 novel, has McKenzie front and center as one half of a dysfunctional buddy pairing that puts the clueless characters of Dumb and Dumber in the shade. Local audiences will come out for the Sarkies brothers, who had a cult hit in New Zealand with Scarfies, but the uncertain tone of the film, which pitches wildly between tragic, antic and just plain grisly, is unlikely to win them any new fans following its world premiere in Berlin’s Generation section.
Two Little Boys orbits around the abnormally close friendship of Nige (McKenzie) and Deano (Australian comedian Hamish Blake), two socially inept, mullet-wearing New Zealand “bogans” who swill beer, watch porn and generally embody the equivalent of American white trash.
When Nige, the meeker of the two, accidentally runs down and kills a Norwegian backpacker (Filip Berg) one night, he panics and turns to his lifelong friend and protector, Deano. Deano is a psycho bully but he’s also very loyal to Nige, whom he first took under his wing in the schoolyard 15 years previously.
From this point, the film becomes a kind of twisted road trip following the dunderheaded duo’s crude attempts at disposing of the body. As they endlessly dither around the exquisite New Zealand countryside, it becomes clear the film is really about a disintegrating friendship and Nige’s efforts to break free of the emotional stranglehold Deano wields. To this end, Nige has befriended Gav (Maaka Pohatu), a gentle-giant security guard whose very existence infuriates the progressively creepier Deano.
There’s much cursing – the characters use profanity as punctuation – a smattering of warped stoner visions and a slump in momentum as the storyline sputters to a close. McKenzie’s deadpan comic brilliance is left untapped while his character spends an inordinate amount of time having panic attacks and being pulled back from the brink by Deano or Gav.
New Zealand’s south basks in the loving gaze of Jac Fitzgerald’s lens as daylight waxes and wanes over one weekend, and the remote coastline of The Catlins lives up to its claim to be one of the country’s most beautiful. David Long’s score scoots across a head-spinning range of musical styles, from disco to gospel to pan pipes, as it races to keep up with the lurches in tone.
Production company: Tent Pole Films
Cast: Bret McKenzie, Hamish Blake, Maaka Pohatu
Director: Robert Sarkies
Screenwriters: Duncan Sarkies and Robert Sarkies
Producers: Vicky Pope and Tim White
Director of photography: Jac Fitzgerald
Production designer: Jules Cook
Costume designer: Amanda Neale
Music: David Long
Editor: Annie Collins
Sales: NZ Film, New Zealand
Not rated, 108 minutes
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