City-based Eddie (Luke Carroll), sets off to reconnect with his blackfella roots by taking a sacred stone back to his hometown. But when wild-boy Charlie (Leon Burchill) forces himself along for the ride, Eddie's spiritual journey takes a sharp turn off-track and becomes a riotous trip through outback Australia as the boys are forced to contend with a self-obsessed Italian rock God, a possessed dog and a host of other eccentric characters along the way. 

2.5
A positive – if clumsy – step in the right direction.

It is shaping as a landmark year for indigenous cinema. The arresting stillness of Warwick Thornton’s Samson and Delilah, easily the best Australian film of 2009, will be followed in sharp relief by Rachel Perkins’ freewheeling musical Bran Nue Dae. If those two films are the polar necessities, then Stone Bros. is a different kind of achievement.

Films made by indigenous filmmakers, or about their people, are traditionally rare, so much so that each is scrutinised for significance and stature. Stone Bros. is a sign that not every release has to issue a communiqué – a light-hearted road movie that is propelled by 187 joints and an innate sense of silliness, Richard J. Frankland’s stoner comedy just wants to have a laugh. It says that we’re ready for all kinds of indigenous experiences on the screen, be they dramatic or ludicrous.

Frankland, also a musician and playwright, still knows a pleasing barb. At the film’s opening, his good-natured hero Eddie (Luke Carroll) loses his job as a cleaner in a Perth museum thanks to his cousin Charlie (Leon Burchill), who manages to knock images of Australian prime minister’s domino-style until a portrait of John Howard lands on the pet cat of Eddie’s boss. 'It wasn’t me," protests Charlie, 'I think it was John Howard!"

Charlie protests a lot, mainly when he’s presented with a roadblock between himself and getting high and having a good time. He is the source, with good intentions, of the great majority of Eddie’s troubles and their bickering, no matter how annoyed Eddie is, is essentially ceremonial. Burchill has a shock of frizzy hair and a lascivious smile, but the movie doesn’t always give him enough mischief to indulge in.

This is, at heart, a very sweet movie. There is no villain to dog Eddie and Charlie as they return home to Kalgoorlie, meaning there is no authority figure for them to rebel against. They’re just a pair of working class boys trying to get by and the mysticism so bound up in their collective history is more of an oddity to them than a mainstay. The one person who takes it seriously is a white prison guard (Peter Phelps) who earnestly tells them, 'I’m from the white big eagle dreaming" as they try not to laugh.

As with African-American filmmaking in the 1990s, Stone Bros. eschews crime for larrikinism and gives us family celebrations and exasperated parental figures to show a different take on the usually grim white perception of Aboriginal life. To add to the antic air the protagonists soon acquire an Italian hitchhiker (Valentino del Toro) and, with shades of Priscilla, another cousin who happens to be a transvestite cabaret singer (David Page). There’s also a vicious Pekinese and a wedding interrupted by a dynamite throwing father of the bride in case you doubted Frankland’s commitment to teenage humour.

Equally, however, it’s technically well-assembled (Frankland previously directed 1999’s Harry’s War and various television dramas) and occasionally the silliness also skewers: Charlie has a brief rant about his refusal to use a certain condom because they’re white, while in the grand tradition of stoner flicks Eddie at one point gets so high that he hallucinates. In his dream he’s a black man in an Australia where white people revere him. 'We want to give you my sister," offers a hopeful boy, before onlookers literally swarm over him.

It makes you laugh, and that’s all Stone Bros. wants to do. It only partially succeeds, but it’s a welcome first step.