After a Sydney concert of AC/DC, five devoted fans, Sonny (Damon Gameau), Ben (Stephen Curry), Lloyd (Ryan Johnson), Sam (Callan Mulvey) and Ronnie (Sam Worthington) avoid disaster when, while they ogle a poster of their idol, the late Bon Scott – their taxi leaves without them and is smashed to pulp in a freak accident. They take this is a sign and make a pact to bury the first to die among them next to Scott’s grave in Fremantle. Another freak accident 12 years later brings them together – not altogether smoothly - to honour their pledge. They finally begin their long cross country trip with the remains of their friend in a van, never dreaming of the obstacles that would hurl themselves in their path.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The music is great, the opening compelling and promising, and moments of fun are great. But Thunderstruck is not as thunderstriking as its elements might suggest. Like my wines, I like my comedies dry. Anyone wanting to make an oddball or quirky or bizarre or zany comedy would do well to have a look at The In Laws (the 1979 original directed by Arthur Hiller, written by Andrew Bergman, starring Peter Falk and Alan Arkin – NOT the 2003 remake). Australia has spawned a small number of successful comedies in that genre, all of them tinged with pathos: Strictly Ballroom, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Muriel’s Wedding, to name the three best known.
It’s not easy to pull off, though, with every second of screen time crucial and relevant, every glance, every nuance a vital element. Thunderstruck wastes a few too many of its crucial minutes, sometimes because of the script, sometimes because of the direction, letting the story unravel untamed or encouraging support cast to overact. Real characters are scarce. There are caricatures - eg the suburban parents - and buffoons - eg Robbo and Simmo, the oafish fans who spoil the plan - instead. By the way, what did hospital orderlies Robbo and Simmo have to do with the wedding where they suddenly turn up as guests? The idea that the film is a broad comedy has been allowed to override decisions about making it dramatically viable.
While the leads are amiable and credible, the telemovie-sized script gives them little depth and the 12 year time jump finds them undefined as people – except Ben (Stephen Curry in good form) who seems to have had a frontal lobotomy or a personality bypass. Sam Worthington and Kestie Morassi deliver the complexities of character that make them satisfying, despite their short screen time, and we might wish everyone took their lead. The joys of Thunderstruck for me are its energy, as well as its musical collection, ranging from the quality metal of AC/DC to the often inventive and bravura original score and songs by Vanda & Young … or just the juxtaposition of incongruous material. Now that’s funny.
Review by Louise Keller:
An energetic road movie whose buddy themes are pitched on the edge of absurd, Thunderstruck booms loudly with its premise, but we never have as much fun as we are promised. Boasting a blast of a soundtrack (the film’s title comes from the AC/DC song Thunderstruck and the life-changing moment that forms the basis for the plot), the individual elements work more successfully than they do as a whole.
It’s likeable enough, with its aspiring rock-band drifting into lives they did not aspire to. The experience of executive producers Al Clark and Andrena Finlay forms the pivot for this collaboration between first time feature director Darren Ashton and screenwriter Shaun Angus Hall, as the reuniting of the four young would-be rock stars propels them to fulfil a past promise.
There are some terrific ideas and great scenes, although the characters are drawn superficially, thus reducing the emotional connection. In the opening scenes, when we meet Sonny, Lloyd, Sam, Ben and Ronnie, big hair and all, they are caricatures. The pace is fast and there is a sense of expectation as the story begins. But 12 years later, when we re-enter their lives and find that Sonny is a layabout still living at home under Mum’s thumb, Lloyd has become a drug dealer, Sam works in a supermarket and Ronnie has found professional success making commercials, there is little to link us with the people they used to be. The passion from their days of rock ‘n roll seems to have been extinguished with no trace remaining.
The performances from the central characters are tops, and I for one am sorry that Sam Worthington’s Ronnie leaves us early in the story. Damon Gameau oozes charisma as Sonny, Ryan Johnson is credibly lively as Lloyd, and Stephen Curry (as the lovable Sam) has the perfect face for comedy. By the time Roy Billing’s good-natured cop drives onto the scene, we are more than ready to welcome him, and Kestie Morassi wins all our hearts as Amy (‘I’ve always wanted to sleep with a rock star’). Geoffrey Hall’s cinematography beautifully captures the settings (from Sydney’s glorious harbour to the depths of the barren desert), and the lighting changes alluringly with the mood.
Highlights are the spontaneous moments; my favourite is the scene when the four guys burst into a raucous rendition of Total Eclipse of the Heart as they are driving along the remote desert highway. We instinctively recognise this is a truthful moment and we connect. As we tag along on the road, there’s a run in with a group of disabled little folk in wheelchairs, a chapel that ends up in cinders, misplaced cremated ashes, a drug haul buried in the middle of nowhere, Asian drug-dealers in pursuit, a wedding with line-dancing and an energetic finale with the incongruity of a Scottish pipe band. Ah yes, indeed, it’s the absurd elements that will entice Thunderstruck’s young target market.
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CAST: Damon Gameau, Stephen Curry, Ryan Johnson, Callan Mulvey, Sam Worthington, Kestie Morassi, John Sheerin, Judi Farr, Roy Billing
PRODUCER: Jodi Matterson
DIRECTOR: Darren Ashton
SCRIPT: Shaun Angus Hall, Darren Ashton
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Geoffrey Hall ACS
EDITOR: Martin Connor
MUSIC: David Thrussell and Francois Tetaz
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Karen Harborow
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 20, 2004