You Can’t Stop the Murders

March 13th, 2003 Film, Film Features, Personalities, Xpress

You’re a comedian with ten years under your belt in what must be the most grueling and thankless of all entertainment formats — standup. You get the chance to do a feature film, released nationally and soon to travel to the mother of all film festivals.

If it all goes well, do you forge ahead, or go back to what you know? To comic, actor, writer and director of the upcoming Aussie comedy You Can’t Stop the Murders, Anthony Mir, it’s a stupid question.

"It would be silly for us to get this far and not give it a shot," Anthony reckons with a shake of his head, "Having Miramax involved and going off to Cannes and then throwing it all in and going back to Revesby [Sydney] workers club performing to drunk punters?"

Because no matter what you think of the film on it’s release this week, the boys deserve their shot.

Friends and comedy circuit colleagues Mir, Gary Eck and Akhmal Saleh conceived of Murders originally as a two-minute comedy sketch. Then it morphed into a regular sketch involving characters of different professions (the protagonists of Murders) are two cops, played by Eck and Saleh).

Further still, and it had grown into a feature length screenplay about a small country town rocked to its boot scooting foundation by a series of bizarre killings.

Written by the three, they found a willing producer who sold the idea round town before Eck, Saleh and Mir cast themselves, with Mir on megaphone duties.

And for a first time film director, Mir projects a breezy confidence about his abilities — as well as what works — that you’d expect from the odd Scorsese or Lynch.

"With the comedy I was very confident," he says, "It was up my sleeve and I didn’t even have to think about it. Technically I sought the advice of my production designer, DOP and producer, all of which were with me through the whole journey."

And Mir soon came up against the one thing that plagued the whole production — a cast of professional comedians used to playing up for live audiences strewn through a venue, rather than to a camera four inches away.

"The answer to every question as a director is ‘no’." Mir says emphatically. "The actor says ‘do you want me to be funnier?’ No. ‘Do you want me to use wide angle, it’s a funny lens?’ No. It’s just constantly bringing them down to that level and make it as natural as possible — even flatter than natural."

While not the most challenging of detective stories (the title sort of blows the mystery), the trio also opted not to go down the Priscilla and Muriel’s Wedding route, plumbing the old 78’s for a bevy of disco hits to help sell the film. In fact, a Village People song doesn’t appear once through the whole film. To Mir, there was a reason.

"The film is about the protagonist’s [Gary] journey. Being a vulnerable, flawed, shy innocent, naive guy, I didn’t feel it was appropriate. I felt the music should reflect that so we went with Peter Allen, Olivia Newton John — the daggy side of the seventies, which I thought connected with his internal journey.

"Plus the Village People would have been obvious and it would have highlighted the murders more than I wanted to. It’s not necessarily about the murders, it’s about how Gary reacts to the murders."

The question is; how will audiences react to Gary, the murders and the dodgy agendas in the hamlet of West Village (filmed in Sydney’s Kurnell, site of the infamous Caltex refinery)?

A dark cloud has come to town. Right before the combined frenzy of the line dancing championships (in which Gary desperately wants to win the title from his nemesis) and Fun Fest town carnival, a brutal killer has struck. And again, and again…

Not-quite-Miami-Vice local cops Gary and Akhmal (in between locking the keys in the squad car and perfecting their special handshake) are in a quandary — there are just no leads. Apart from the killer’s victims all being the same as the characters in the Village People (as well as their body parts gradually spelling out ‘YMCA’).

To make matters worse, a trigger-happy detective from the city (who thinks he is Miami Vice) comes to steal Gary’s thunder and the heart of the woman he adores.

As the carnage piles up, Gary must try to solve the mystery, get the girl, and spend all day listening to Akhmal’s ideas for movie scripts.

Don’t expect Priscilla or Muriel’s Wedding, because it’s not as impactful, original or funny as either. This is not the film that will put the Australian film industry back on the map, but one where three comics have been given a bit of money, a few cameras and free reign with the script.

The plot meanders and stumbles occasionally, it won’t win any James Cameron awards for technical brilliance, and you wish the banter between Gary and Akhmal (which seems central to the film) would happen more often.

But the occasional burst of honest laughter the movie will get out of you will keep you being too harsh. As star/writer/director Mir says, "I want to put the fun back into murders."

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