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CRACKERS

SYNOPSIS:
It’s Christmas and the Dredge family gathers for a loving celebration. Twelve year-old Joey Dredge (Daniel Kellie) is in trouble … again! Expelled for blowing-up the science lab and jumping off the tuckshop roof, he’s haunted by the death of his father and HATES his mother Hilary’s (Susan Lyons) new boyfriend Bruno (Peter Rowsthorn), complete with thuggish son Angus (Christopher Chapman). Compounding his misery is the knowledge he has to spend Christmas with them at his grandparents’ beach house. Things look grim until the unexpected arrival of great-grandfather Albert (Warren Mitchell) - fresh from a stint in the slammer - and his pet rooster, Mo. Forced to share the back shed with Albert, an unassuming octogenarian who beats-up skinheads, Joey’s life changes. Albert needs help repairing an old boat and Joey desperately wants to learn how to fight, so they strike a deal. Through hell and high water their alliance blossoms into a friendship which enables Joey to accept the past and embrace the future with a new-found confidence.

"The main problem with Crackers is that it doesn’t seem sure of its market. Told from the point of view of a young boy, it fails to be a family pic because of the language and subject matter, wavering between teen appeal and adult black humour. Crackers will offend many people - it’s coarse, offensive, very black and full of bad taste. Described as ‘urban warfare at the Christmas dinner table’, Crackers brings mayhem and madness to a family Christmas gathering from hell. From the opening credits, the bird’s eye view shows an off-beat cock-eyed perspective (the cock symbolising the baggage we carry around); the characters are caricatures, stereotypes exaggerated for the blatant purpose of humour. And there are lots of laughs - although, admittedly not always in good taste. David Swann’s film is a satire on Christmas, and the resulting insincerity and farce of pretence that is played out under the banner of ‘happy families’. There are some very good things in the film - Warren Mitchell’ performance as the headstrong eccentric great grandpa is strong, effective and affecting. Mitchell makes Alfred a believable character, who despite all his many failings, is essentially loveable. Daniel Kellie, as young Joey, is compelling, with a natural screen freshness. While the other main performances are at times enjoyable, they needed to be directed to play straight, rather than for laughs. There are some outrageously funny ideas, which remain as bizarre images: Joey sitting in the back seat of the car wearing snorkelling gear, Great Grandpa with his wooden leg and attitude teaching Joey to fight, and the dog’s mishap at the barbeque. . . The laughs are set up with anticipation before the reward. Here is a family that is dyslexic in its relationships. Real life comedy is often close to tragedy, and this is the film’s greatest strength. There is a real sense of pathos and tragedy about these people who are coping with their lives. Crackers doesn’t quite hit the mark, but will bring a strong reaction from many."
Louise Keller

"No question that the setting for this film is ripe for satirical exploitation, an Australian ritual Christmas with all its dangerous trappings of ancient family hatreds constrained for the occasion, only to burst open one way or t’other. But the characters here are not real, full bloodied people, rather suggestions of same. And the comedy comes with a heavy hand, often predetermined and predictable. The laughs should come from character, and when characterisation fails, so do the laughs. You can see the comedy is there, but you don’t respond to it. The approach suggests a lack of clear vision for this work, as Louise remarks. Even if you employ the youngster’s point of view, there has to be a real world around him. The comedy is there, but the cinema isn’t. It could and should be funny, only if it is dramatically authentic first. There is one thing, though: young Daniel Kellie is very good – and he looks how I imagine the 13 year old Walter Matthau might have looked. And acted."
Andrew L. Urban

"The first-time writer-director of this film is actor David Swann, who will be forever remembered by some of us as the sleazy cad Dr Richard Lovechild ('Ciao, loser') on Channel 7's hospital soap spoof Let The Blood Run Free. Crackers has a little of the manic crassness of that underrated show - which Swann also helped to write - but mostly it's another lazy account of the ugliness of working-class Australian life. A family barbecue takes place against a background of turds, farts and dead dogs. Middle-aged faces, garish with smeared zinc cream, laugh drunkenly in close-up. The trendier younger generation are just as grotesque, panting and groping at each other in a cramped bathroom, or giggling in a stoned stupor (Peter Rowsthorn's playing of this scene is an admitted highlight). This being a '90s film, there's some received wisdom round the edges about 'dysfunctional' family members learning to accept each other. But since the characters have no more depth than figures from TV commercials, this rhetoric just gets in the way of the satire: the ideal of family love and togetherness, which most of the film trashes, eventually has to be affirmed after all. Unimaginatively shot and staged (apart from a few spectacular gags) Crackers is, at best, tolerable low-level entertainment."
Jake Wilson

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 2
Mixed: 1

Interview with
SUSAN LYONS

CRACKERS (M)
(AUS)

CAST: Warren Mitchell, Peter Rowsthorn, Susan Lyons, Daniel Kellie, Terry Gill, Maggie King, Valerie Bader, Christopher Chapman, Louise Siversen, Graham Jahne

DIRECTOR: David Swann

PRODUCER: Chris Warner

SCRIPT: David Swann

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Laszlo Baranyai

EDITOR: Ken Sallows

MUSIC: Ricky Edwards

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Tracy Watt

RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sharmill Films

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 9, 1998







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