Paul Hogan plays Charlie McFarland and Shane Jacobson plays his estranged son, Boots. After a family tragedy Charlie and Boots try and put their differences aside and head off on the road trip of a lifetime - from regional Victoria to the Cape York Peninsula - they overcome many challenges to reach their dream - to fish off the northern most tip of Australia.
It is a convention of cinema to open a movie with a bang. You know, an explosion if it’s an action movie, a murder if a thriller, a splatter if a horror, etc. But for his new movie, director Dean Murphy has other ideas. He wants to play with our expectations. For starters, take the poster for his new comedy Charlie and Boots. It has all the promise of a nice, safe, comfy chuckle-fest. There’s Paul Hogan, his larrikin smile still recognisable – even after rumours of cosmetic enhancement – beaming out at you. And next to him is Shane Jacobson, his Kenny rolypoly matey-ness still irresistibly infectious.
Anyway, the movie begins and immediately Murphy goes straight for the emotional jugular: The first scene is a funeral. Everyone is fighting tears or choking them back, including Hoges and Jacobson (who doesn’t look at all at home without his overalls).
The reason for all this grief is that Charlie (Hogan) and Boots (Jacobson) are mourning the loss of Gracie (Peggy Thompson), beloved wife and mother respectively. Not wanting to spare us, Murphy, cuts away from the gravesite and plunges us back to the moment, when, surrounded by friends and family, Mum dropped dead. By this stage, less than five minutes in, I was worried I would never laugh again.
Once this set-up is established the screenplay (by Murphy and Stewart Faichney) doesn’t waste any more time getting the plot underway. It seems that Charlie and Boots are estranged – for reasons that are revealed in lengthy expositional dialogue scenes late in the movie. Boots wants to mend emotional fences with his Old Man and to do this he decides that together they must drive to Cape York, some 3,000km from their home in the dairy district of Victoria. I thought, at this point that if the Old Man was such a curmudgeon, why didn’t he just tell Boots to bugger off and go back to sitting in the dark and being miserable? The answer to such inconvenient philosophical musings is that this is a feel-good buddy road movie star vehicle built for two, and I accepted the fact that no matter what was to happen I was going to be made to feel optimistic. I braced myself.
And so begins a series of serio-comic vignettes in which our heroes banter in small hotel rooms, on the road, and in truck stops. And the gags? Well, they operate at about the level of skit comedy, but you know, with the jokes censored out.
If this review is sounding snide and impatient with material that seems calculated to be inoffensive and well-intentioned, then consider the presence of teen actor Morgan Griffin. The one time teen star of TV kids hit The Sleepover Club is a welcome antidote to the pious mugging of the two stars. But that in itself becomes a problem for the movie because there’s a great gaping void in the middle of the screen every time she disappears from the storyline and there’s no way the collective charisma of the two stars can fill it. Griffin plays a 16 year-old hitchhiker and would-be country singer called Jess, who is given a lift by Charlie and Boots.
They take her to Tamworth, where she sings sweetly and charmingly and we never see her again. And that’s typical of the movie – just when it’s getting good, the interesting characters disappear and we’re stuck with the two leads in a family-conflict sub-plot where Hogan and Jacobson are asked to perform embarrassing angsty scenes of long-suppressed feelings"¦and you’re left wondering what happened to the 'good’ part of 'feel-good’. Charlie and Boots looks and feels like it was made for TV. Even the scenery, flat lands, rolling greenery and pretty country cottages looks puny.
Charlie and Boots is Easy Rider on Mogadon. Or maybe it’s a cinematic-genetic throwback to Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis On the Road movies of the 1940s. It sure is old fashioned.