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With: Guy Pearce, Kylie Minogue, Jesse Denyer, Jacob Kotan, Alex Kotan, Chelsea Jamieson, Ava Taylor, Radha Mitchell, Julian McMahon, Darcey Wilson, Ethan Robinson, James Calder, Asher Keddie, Jeremy Sims, Atticus Robb, Chelsea Glaw, Jack Thompson, Richard Roxburgh
Written by: Stephan Elliott
Directed by: Stephan Elliott
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, language and some underage drinking
Running Time: 97
Date: 06/21/2019

Swinging Safari (2019)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Cautionary Whale

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Set in a tacky, suntan oil-smeared Australia, this comedy-drama seems to embrace cheerful pandemonium, but it has a serious side that negates it, making it all feel wasteful and generally unappealing.

In Swinging Safari, it's the 1970s in Wyong Place, Australia, where three families live the good life, going to the beach, swimming, getting drunk, throwing "key parties," and embracing general chaos. Fourteen year-old Jeff (Atticus Robb) films everything on his Super 8 camera, enlisting his friends to create dangerous stunts and outrageous gory killings.

His soulmate is Melly (Darcey Wilson); they share matching scars received when they were younger and wearing polyester too close to a fire. When a whale washes up on the beach, it causes a stir among the townspeople, and Jeff and Melly begin to think about what adulthood might hold in store for them. One thing is for sure: Jeff plans to make a movie about all this someday.

As soon as attractive stars like Guy Pearce, Kylie Minogue, and Radha Mitchell appear, looking greasy and burned out, it becomes apparent that Swinging Safari is going to wrap itself up in the most hideous things the 1970s had to offer, including bare chests, muttonchops, cheesy mustaches, bell-bottoms, feathered hair, sunken living rooms, fondue, and water beds. Paced like a gaudy hurricane, it might have been loose, raucous fun — perhaps a little like writer/director Stephan Elliott's earlier hit The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert — but there's very little to actually like here.

The mismatch occurs through the coming-of-age portion of the story, wherein everything is seen through the eyes of the young filmmaker. This character is a creaky old cliché, observing everything and waiting, and it doesn't really work in this context. Jeff frowns, slightly, on all the proceedings so that even his own ridiculously gory films don't have the carefree, absurd quality they could have.

The entire movie just feels like the lives of several characters going depressingly off the rails, and heading into a hopeless future. Swinging Safari invites us to laugh, but it's all just a little too grim for that to be an option.

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