Geoff Murphy’s Goodbye Pork Pie (1981) was one of the first biggest hits of the New Zealand new wave films (commenced with Roger Donaldson’s Sleeping Dogs, 1977). Nearly 600,000 tickets were sold the first time it released and watching the film turned out to be a national event. It was basically a prolonged chase film with two fool-hardy male characters in a yellow Mini. In 1981, New Zealand authorities stated that yellow Mini thefts had increased. The police even warned about copycat crimes. Geoff’s film was neither perfectly structured nor profoundly layered. Yet it had an undeniable charm and a fascinating subtext. It provided the kind of unapologetic entertainment we rarely see in films nowadays. Geoff Murphy’s son Matt Murphy now brings back the hit story on the road.
Matt who works as production designer on films & TV ads makes his feature film directorial debut with Pork Pie (2017). The car stunts are a lot stylish and there are at least a dozen of good gags. Even so, it never comes close to the abundant charm of older Pork Pie. The film opens with Luke (James Rolleston), the youngster with a troubled past, stealing a car from car-thieving thugs. Struggling writer Jon (Dean O’Gorman) aches over losing his girlfriend Suzie. He decides to meet and console Suzie at a friend’s wedding. After the setback with his car Jon gets a lift from Luke. A free-wheeling animal rights activist Keira (Ashleigh Cummings) soon joins the duo.
The fact about stolen car comes to light alongside the crime of not paying for gas. Jon fails to make amends with Suzie at the wedding. With police hot on their trail, the trio commits daring adventures to reach Invercargill in order to win back Suzie. The insipid authorities are annoyed and the social media goes mad. They soon become folk heroes and earn the name ‘The Blondini Gang’. Camarderie springs between Jon and Luke, while romance kindles between Luke and Keira. Of course, in this trip from northern to southern-tip of New Zealand, there’s abundance of good humor and simple life lessons.
Contemporary commercial films are so obsessed with political correctness that they suck out charm from the narrative. The over political correctness is ruining Superman and other super-hero films. Pork Pie is another minor example in this annoying trend. Despite the grainy production values in Geoff Murphy’s film, the great thing about it is the nonchalant characters. Gerry and John in the older version are male chauvinists. When Shirl, the female member of the trio, hops into the car Gerry bets $2 that he would make her sleep with him. Gerry often curses Shirl as ‘mad bitch’ and ‘slag’. Recklessness and damning behavior are vital part of their character nature.
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Gerry and John’s intention to rebel and distance themselves from the society, however, isn’t realized. That’s because of the connection (related to love, not just sex) they share with women. Bruce Babbington, the New Zealand author reads the ‘Goodbye’ in the title of 1980 films as goodbye said to self-destructive masculinity. “The forces of feminism and multi-culturalism have caught up in the end,“ says the author. The characters in Matt’s Pork Pie, more or less, conform to types. Jon and Luke do some reckless things, but basically they have a heart of gold. Luke desires a lasting relationship with Keira, not simply sex. There’s a reason behind why Luke stole a car and why Jon did the worst thing to his girlfriend. Keira is not just a hard-partying promiscuous girl, but also an idealistic personality. This intention to over-sanitize each character is the most annoying aspect of new Pork Pie.
The shiny mini in the remade Pork Pie stays shiny for the most part. In the old film, Gerry and John strip off parts of the yellow Mini to fund their journey. The sight of the mangled yellow Mini stands tall as a symbol for the duo’s anarchy. There aren’t such subtexts and symbols in the remake version. Nevertheless, it’s not as bad a remake as I am making it sound. Moreover, those who haven’t watched the original can enjoy it a little better. The digital filmmaking profusely showcases the lushness of New Zealand. The witty exchanges and the gracefully executed stunts are also captivating factors.
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The mad dash through Wellington with a coffin at the top of the car is a standout stunt sequence. The final chase to Invercargill provides fine sentimental quotient. The comedic cameos involving Suzie’s mother and the mad gun-slinger generate belly laughs. There are, at least, couple of interesting tip-of-the-hat moments to the original feature. The quirkiness in the film’s later half reminds us of Taika Waititi’s recent sensational hit Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016). Even though the central three characters aren’t well explored, the uniformly good performances imbue mirthful road-trip vibe.
Pork Pie (105 minutes) is an enjoyable Kiwi action comedy, although it never matches up to the bewitching frenetic tone of its iconic older version.
By Arun Kumar
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An ardent cinephile, who truly believes in the transformative power and shared-dream experience of cinema. He blogs at ‘Passion for Movies.’