Likely lads: George Michael & Andrew Ridgeley in the doco ‘Wham!’.
WHAM! ***1/2 (92 minutes) PG
While it’s a safe bet fans of 1980s hit machine Wham! will eat up this excellent documentary in one gulp, chances are non-fans will find it equally absorbing as director Chris Smith (Tiger King) looks beyond the froth and bubble of the band’s image to focus on the price stardom and ambition can exact.
An extremely well-made and respectful nostalgia trip, the film propels us on a bumpy ride through the colourful history of Andrew Ridgeley and the late George Michael, two school chums who took the world by storm in four short years, a point oddly understated throughout the film.
First blending social commentary into their pop they promptly jettisoned the politics to focus on upbeat dance music designed to make them as big as possible.
Comprised mostly of archival footage and clippings from the 50 scrupulously maintained scrapbooks curated by Ridgeley’s mother (an invaluable archive, as it turned out), they narrate their wild journey, Ridgeley providing fresh commentary while Michael’s words are culled from his countless media interviews.
Often raw and brutally honest, they describe how their early success was undercut by mismanagment, which deprived them of hard-earned royalties.
While Michael’s coming out to Ridgeley is key to the story, perhaps the most intriguing part of the tale is Ridgeley’s admission that his pal was both the creative force behind their success and the real drawcard as a heartthrob to girls and, presumably, to some lads.
The doco certainly works as a corrective, highlighting all the hard work that went into Wham’s light, fluffy image.
It also builds to a moving end point, where their final concert before 75,000 fans marked the beginning of George Michael’s solo career in which he was able to resolve the creative frustration he was feeling.
There’s no mention of his consequent troubles or his tragic death, not even in the final captions. That’s all dealt with in George Michael: Freedon Uncut, which is available to rent on Apple and Paramount+.
JOY RIDE **1/2 (94 minutes) MA
Here’s another raucous bonding-through-vulgarity comedy to join the recent rush of girls-behaving-badly films such as Bridesmaids, Rough Night, Girls Trip, Bad Moms, Trainwreck and so on. It’s a patchy, decidedly foul-mouthed, adults-only jape that raises a few laughs but not quite enough to justify the cost of admission.
Successfully raised by her adopted white parents, newbie lawyer Audrey Sullivan (Ashley Park) is sent to her native China where she has to lock down a big business deal to secure a promised promotion.
Unfortunately, pulling that off necessitates locating her birth mother. Even more unfortunately she has her sex-obsessed childhood bestie Lolo (Sherry Cola) in tow, who was also adopted, along with Kat (Stephanie Hsu), a famous Chinese actress, and Deadeye (Sabrina Wu), her weirdo cousin.
The four work hard to create a buzzy comedy ensemble, only they’re let down by limp direction from first timer Adele Lim (writer of Crazy Rich Asians) who struggles to generate much comic frisson.
The central tension to Audrey’s quest fizzles during a sexcapade – shouldn’t she be focused on finding her mother and saving her career? – and the K-Pop fantasy detour is the kind of bad call that, in a bygone era, you’d see on the deleted scenes menu of a DVD (Digital Versatile Disk).
The quartet engage in lots of dirty talk about male appendages and such like, and some of it is pretty funny. Regrettably, the constant attempts at badinage sound strained, carrying that uncanny off-key ring of improv that didn’t quite work.
To be fair, vulgarity can be entertaining, especially when spouted by women – see Susie Essman’s performance in Curb Your Enthusiasm – and on that score Joy Rude ranks as a passable Friday-night time killer.
Still, if you wait for it to stream you won’t be missing anything.
RUN RABBIT RUN *** (101 minutes) M
The run of quality Australian scarefests continues with Run Rabbit Run, a nifty, tightly wound psycho-thriller sharply directed by Daina Reid (The Handmaid’s Tale; The Secret River; INXS: Never Tear Us Apart; Paper Giants; Howzat), based on a screenplay by Hannah Kent.
The basic set-up to what is obviously a low-budget affair sees harried divorced mother Sarah (Sarah Snook from Succession) having a rough time with her young daughter Mia (Lily LaTorre, in a very fine performance).
Suddenly odd behaviour and creepy drawings suggest a long gone spirit is squatting inside Mia, its mission being to unnerve Sarah about secrets from her childhood.
There are clichés all over the shop, but they’re deployed with skill and precision, making this small-scale effort a cut above bigger efforts, such as the latest Insidious movie. Very good stuff.
THE OUT-LAWS *** (96 minutes) MA
Lashings of satisfying silliness are to be had with The Out-Laws, a daffy caper comedy that presents a very funny twist on the Meet the Parents premise, only here there’s much more shooting and chasing.
Ambitious bank manager Owen Browning (Adam DeVine from Workaholics) has his plans to marry yoga teacher Parker (Nina Dobrev) scrambled when he finds out her parents (Pierce Brosnan and Ellen Barkin) are underworld figures who owe another underworld figure a lot of money.
As a crimedy it hits all the right notes, though there is some violence featuring those geysers of digital blood we see so much of these days. Was that really necessary?
DeVine is fine as a hapless schmo while Brosnan and Barkin crackle as high-end criminals, with Brosnan making the inevitable James Bond gag.
Right in the middle of all the hijinks the film serves up a very impressive chase sequence involving some old-school, CGI-free stunts, including a drive through a graveyard where all the headstones are made of foam.