One-joke move loses its initial flush

August 18th, 2006 Film, Film Reviews, The West Australian

Directed by Clayton Jacobson

2.5/5

Currently the toast of big screen Australian comedy and the first worthy entry into the mockumentary genre from our shores, Kenny is the brainchild of brothers Shane (who co-writes and stars) and Clayton (who co-writes and directs) Jacobson. It tells the story of an everyday bloke you might see fleetingly, anywhere from in traffic to the Melbourne Cup but whom you’d forget just as quickly.

Why the Melbourne Cup? Kenny is a portaloo delivery driver and plumber for Splashdown Corporate Bathroom Rentals, servicing some of the biggest concerts and entertainment events in Victoria, and the film deals with his exploits over the course of what appears to be a couple of months in his life.

We see everything from the highs and lows of his work to a family life we can all identify with to some degree — from his nasty, estranged wife to his terminally grumpy dad and unforgiving brother. We see Kenny doing everything from scraping out the inside of a tank that’s been holding Splashdown’s delicate cargo to attending a bathroom industry trade expo in the US, and it appears every bit the fly-on-the-wall doco it purports to be.

The humour isn’t all bathroom-based (although plenty of it is, especially early on). A salt of the earth character, Kenny has something to say on everything from the legacy he’ll leave his son to the contents of a curry. His take-life-as-it-comes approach is one Australia was built upon, one many of us forget in the McMansion race and the hysterical desire to sell ourselves as a chic tourist destination. Watching Kenny makes you remember that Kenny is representative of a good proportion of the population of Australia.

It has a broader scope than you think it will, and the dialogue and performances are so natural you’ll wonder how much was scripted as opposed to ad-libbed, but overkill causes Kenny to run out of steam about halfway through.

As TV shows like Bean to South Park have shown us, translating a half hour comedy to the big screen is fraught with peril. A half-hour TV piece suits the one-joke premise in a short, digestible way, and it’s very hard to retool those ideas to the feature-length movie format. Comedy is particularly tricky, overstaying it’s welcome far earlier than other genres if not done effectively.

Kenny would have worked much better as a series of five or six half-hour TV specials. The film is forward-heavy and the most obvious, funniest jokes that emerge from the material are used in the first half. After that it buckles somewhat under the weight of its own running time, not sure what to do with the original premise. Placing the characters in situations like the US trip and family camping trip make it feel like the filmmakers were just plugging in scenes to fill up the obligatory 90-120 minutes.

Since Australian producers and directors of both TV and films realised they had to emulate Hollywood to really make it, we rarely see such locally-focused entertainment products any more. Ironically they’re the ones that sell the best overseas, such as Priscilla or The Castle, but Kenny is a little more like Kingswood Country or The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, with an ocker charm that’s both contemporary and grounding. Executed with a bit more substance, it could have been the classic the industry wants it to be.


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