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    husband, dad, teacher, filmmaker, writer, film geek, musician, DIYer, vegetarian, Bulldog, Buckeye, Nighthawk

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australia1I thought Wisconsin made the cheese. Apparently that’s one of Australia’s exports, too.

Director Baz Luhrmann’s epic love poem to his native land is very much like a musical without singing or dancing. The actors mug for the camera, the story takes ridiculous turns, and the whole thing becomes so shamelessly sappy it practically oozes off the screen like molasses.

Australia is being billed as a World War II epic, but it’s more like two epics crammed together. The first ninety minutes are built around a classic battle over land and livestock (think Shane or any number of Westerns). Englishwoman Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) dashes off to Australia to check on her husband, who has built a cattle ranch there. She finds her husband dead and the ranch in dire straits. Rival cattle baron King Carney (Bryan Brown) has all but ruined Ashley’s operation.

Lady Ashley quickly discovers a sense of purpose by defying Carney’s takeover attempts. But the only experienced cattle man crazy, or desperate, enough to help her is Drover (Hugh Jackman), a handsome drifter.

Lady Ashley also falls in love with Nullah (Brandon Walters), a young boy of mixed race. This grounds all of Australia in a pivotal chapter in the country’s history, when children of Aboriginal and White parentage were taken from their parents and raised by missionaries to keep them separate from the rest of society. Those children are known as the Stolen Generation.

When the land battle story resolved, I was hoping in vain that the credits would begin to roll. The relationship between Lady Ashley and Nullah is genuinely moving, and this first half makes for a complete movie on its own. Despite a nauseatingly saccharine first act, I could digest the film up to that point.

Alas, this over-cooked turkey just kept on basting until it was so saturated in melodrama it belonged on no one’s table.

Annoyed by my intentionally clumsy, strained metaphor? Trust me, that’s nothing compared to the barrage of fromage that is Australia.

Eventually, Japanese war planes begin to attack Australia, and the war epic portion of our evening finally begins. The two parts of the film are so disconnected the writers use a character being eaten by an alligator as a segue. It’s such an absurd plot device it has already been mocked on screen by the film Adaptation back in 2002.

australia2Australia does have some shining moments. A scene in which Nullah must single-handedly stop a stampede of cattle is riveting and supremely suspenseful. The Australian countryside is breathtaking. Jackman looks great and is as charming as ever. (If you’re only buying a ticket to watch the reigning sexiest man alive, you’ll get your money’s worth.) Kidman also gets to show more personality than usual. And newcomer Walters is adorable.

But like all of Luhrmann’s other films (Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet), Australia is its own worst enemy, repeatedly drawing us in only to turn us off again with an over-the-top stylistic flourish or laughably bad writing.

At times, I couldn’t decide whether I was watching a promotional video for the Australian Tourism department, a Playgirl home video, or an ad for Dewars scotch.

Australia would work just fine as any one of those things, but as a complete movie, it’s average at best.

Bottomline: Pretty but forgettable piece of melodrama


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