EmptyOpens: Australia, May 1 (New Town Films)
SYDNEY -- The Australian Outback really should get an agent. Yet another road movie giving it a starring role. Unfortunately, the low-budget Aussie suspenser "Cactus" leans too heavily on strikingly shot desert vistas, and puny exposition leaves the narrative engine sputtering. Essentially a two-hander involving the driver of a beat-up red sedan delivering his smart-mouthed hostage to a remote location, "Cactus" takes great pride in its Aussie milieu.
First-time writer-director Jasmine Yuen-Carrucan makes a smart bid for a local audience by assigning bit parts to iconic Aussie actor Bryan Brown and Shane Jacobson, star of last year's unlikely hit "Kenny." The jovial colloquialisms -- and a running gag about the rivalry between fans of two domestic car makes -- also will resonate locally but would go over the heads of most overseas viewers.
The film opens effectively with a nocturnal scuffle. This introduces us to the central construct: kidnapper John (Travis McMahon) and victim Eli (David Lyons) driving across the hot and dusty Outback. It also poses many questions: Who is John? Where is he taking Eli and why? What has Eli done wrong?
As the odometer ticks over, the tease continues with the disclosure of some intriguing details such as a child's soft toy on the back seat. But a series of disappointingly mundane revelations about the kidnapper and his motives soon undermines the tension and viewers are likely to feel cheated.
The interplay between the two hunky leads takes interesting detours as they steer toward an uneasy truce, yet the roles feel underwritten. The same goes for Jacobson's doomed truck driver and Brown's rough-justice cop.
"Cactus" is a lot lighter in tone than recent outback thrillers such as "Gone" and "Wolf Creek," and a set piece involving a Wiggles CD on repeat is positively Tarantino-esque.
Cast: Travis McMahon, David Lyons, Bryan Brown, Shane Jacobson. Writer-director: Jasmine Yuen-Carrucan. Executive producer: Bryan Brown. Producer: Paul Sullivan. Director of photography: Florian Emmerich. Production designer: Aaron Crothers. Music: Nerida Tyson-Chew. Costume designer: Heather Laurie. Editor: Mark Perry. No MPAA rating, 89 minutes.