UPDATED: It gives me no pleasure to report that the Save Your Legs! has bombed in Australian cinemas, despite an ambitiously wide release, a hefty marketing campaign and some favourable reviews.
The bromantic comedy about a bunch of suburban cricketers who fulfil their dream of playing in India scored $188,000 in four days on 176 screens. Among the other openers, I Give It a Year, the rom-com starring Rose Byrne and Anna Faris, took $1.5 million on 224 screens. Steven Soderbergh's thriller Side Effects raked in a mediocre $841000 on 177 and Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings' evidently befuddling Cloud Atlas drew $363,000 on 66.
That's among the worst debuts for a local film in recent years. Just why it failed to connect with audiences is no doubt exercising the minds of the producers, the board and executives who make the funding decisions at Screen Australia, and distributor Madman Entertainment.
I do not mean to disparage any of the above or to pick on an individual film but this result is a reminder yet again of how tough it is for many Australian films to find an audience. The film's Facebook page shows no effort was spared in promoting and marketing the movie, which stars Stephen Curry, Brendan Cowell and Damon Gameau. Among the initiatives: A Save Your Legs! game for iPads and iPhones; a contest run through Event Cinemas to win $5,000 cash; a competition to win a 16-day adventure tour to North India; video interviews with the cast and first-time director Boyd Hicklin; and a segment on the Nine Network's The Cricket Show.
The vast majority of comments posted have been highly favourable: “Surprisingly I really enjoyed this movie. I don't know much about cricket but that doesn't matter. Entertaining and funny” (Jeanne Beatty); “It's a great film – nice and Aussie!” (Nicholas Mark); “Great movie guys – (I) could relate to quite a few characters, shenanigans on tour (albeit u/19s in NZ) and the many quirky cricketisms” (Brett Osler).
There's no issue with the release date as, unusually, no major Hollywood films opened last week. Some newspaper reviews were positive. “It hits a six at every turn and proves a wonderfully unexpected delight. You'd be a mug to miss it,” said the Sunday Age's Ed Gibbs.
“A warm and witty Australian comedy about mateship and growing up, Save Your Legs! will appeal to anyone looking for a dose of good, old-fashioned larrikin behaviour,” opined the Sydney Morning Herald's Simon Weaving.
In The Australian, David Stratton was less enthusiastic, declaring: “Actor Brendan Cowell's screenplay is, unfortunately, unable to avoid all the clichés inherent in the material – the Delhi belly, the Aussies behaving badly in a foreign country, the obsession with Sachin Tendulkar – but at least it's lively enough.”
So what went wrong for the comedy since its launch at the 2012 Melbourne International Film Festival? As I noted in my review, Australian films with sports themes are often problematic for cinemagoers, especially females who aren't sports-minded. The last film I can recall that clicked was Crackerjack, a whimsical, likable comedy set in the world of lawn bowls, and that was in 2002.
Curry is a terrific character actor who's worked mostly in TV and was fine as a member of the ensemble cast of The Castle. But being the lead in a feature film is a far greater responsibility.
To me, the major flaw was Cowell's screenplay which was lamentably light on for jokes and had a predictable, humdrum plot which just isn't of cinematic scope and quality.
It isn't a bad film but it doesn't justify the hype as an “an inspirational journey from the heart of Australia to the soul of India” and “an uplifting adventure filled with comedy, cricket and Bollywood music.”
On a broader level, this result marks another questionable investment decision by Screen Australia. I think it's time the agency reviewed its funding criteria and came up with a new model. Judging by the misfires of the past year or so, including The King is Dead!, Dead Europe, Last Dance, Lore and Not Suitable for Children, the current model isn't working.