Monday, December 10, 2012

Blu Ray/DVD Reviews: We Can Be Heroes & Angry Boys

Up until very recently I had not been familiar with the comedy stylings of Australian comedian Chris Lilley. 

Lilley is very popular in his home country with a few TV shows, which are now out new to DVD and Blu ray (Lilley's second program Summer Heights High was released on DVD in 2009) all of which utilize the mockumentary approach much like the various versions of The Office, Modern Family, et al, and feature Lilley playing all the main characters, despite gender or race.

While Lilley is certainly talented, with a good grasp on accents, personality tics, and timing, he comes off more as an Australian Jamie Kennedy, than a one-man Monty Python. Speaking of Monty Python, I was reminded of a BBC executive that John Cleese once played on the classic Flying Circus series that said of the program: “Frankly I don't fully understand it myself, the kids seem to like it.”

That was definitely the case with Lilley’s 2005 series We Can Be Heroes: Finding The Australian Of The Year, out now in the U.S. on DVD. The show follows five minor celebrities, who have been nominated by friends and family for the Australian of the Year award. Lilley portrays all five of the characters - six actually as the cast includes a pair of identical twins.

The candidates include former policeman Phil Olivetti (semi-famous for saving nine children from a bouncy castle tragedy), Chinese physics student and aspiring actor Ricky Wong, suburban housewife turned odd athlete Pat Mullins, popular private school-girl Ja'mie, and Daniel Sims, who was nominated for donating one of his eardrums to his near-deaf brother, Nathan.

Over the course of six half hour episodes director Matt Saville cuts back and forth between this loony lot as they prepare for the state finals. A fitting example of the level of humor is when the scrappy teenage Daniel Sims shows us scores of photographs with his brother Nathan giving the camera the finger in each one. If that sounds like hilarious material then this may be the show for you.

But apart from the occasional amusing line, and some likable comic energy present, there wasn’t a lot of solid comedy to chew on. Lilley is a likable chap, and there’s plenty of palpable comic energy present, but many of the situations (including housewife Pat’s sport of rolling to get from place to place) are really forced with none of the organic-feeling funniness of the best of Christopher Guest’s ensemble work – to name a master mockumentarian.

Fans of Lilley will be happy with this set though, as it contains over two hours of deleted scenes, and outtakes, a behind-the-scenes documentary, extended episodes, and Ricky Wong’s (the wrongest character here by far) performance of “Indigeroo” at the The Logies (whatever the Hell that is).

Lilley reprises the Sims’ indentical twins in his globe-trotting 2011 series Angry Boys, which unlike We Can Be Heroes is now available on Blu ray as well as DVD. It’s another mockumentary series, this time exploring the lives of a batch of troubled boys (of course all played by Lilley), so, yep, it’s more of the same.

But hold on, this has Lilley in blackface! That’s right as African-American rapper S. Mouse, Lilley colors his skin to play yet another hip hop artist who didn’t actually come from a life on the streets; he had a fluent rich family including a father who didn’t do drugs and abuse him.

It’s really not that it’s so offensive that a white Australian man is playing a black character, it’s more that it’s disappointing that it’s such a dated comic stereotype that’s been done to death.

Lilley also portrays Jen Okazaki, a manipulative Japanese mother of a skateboard champion son who is being marketed as being gay when he’s not – this is one of the funnier storylines, but that’s not saying a lot.

The remaining characters are a champion surfer Blake Oakfield, and Ruth “Gran” Sims (Daniel and Nathan's 65 year-old grandmother), a guard at a juvenile detention facility with questionable methods of dealing with the inmates.

Lilley, who co-directed along with Stuart McDonald, and Jeffrey Walker, keeps the show rolling watchably along, but the plot-lines don’t go anywhere interesting. The conflicts the characters face can be seen coming, as well as the jokes, way before they arrive, and the nature of each scenario being about taking these people down a few notches from their perceived stations in life reeks of overdone obviousness.

It also doesn’t help that the humor gets much cruder in Angry Boys, and even pretty disgusting (Blake loses his testicles in a gang fight which results in a close-up I wish they’d cut). This would have been fine, if, you know, laughs accompanied this attempt to be edgier.

There’s an un-ambitious nature to the writing, a laziness to the set-ups that results more in eye-rolls than laughs. At least there’s a higher number of gag attempts which is good because at 12 episodes it’s twice as long as Lilley’s previous series. The set consists of 3 discs with the run of episodes contained on the first 2, with the third disc being six hours (!) of deleted scenes, bloopers, and music videos satires. So again, the kids who seem to like this stuff will be well served.

More later...

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