Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Unlikely Comrades

By Hadley Hury

JUNE 21, 1999:  The simplicity, and even to a significant degree the predictability of Australian director Rob Sitch's The Castle are among its chief pleasures. The story of a family's struggle to save their home from an airport expansion is the sort of "small film" that affords welcome relief from Hollywood behemoths engorged with frenetic sensation. The Castle, like any good short essay (it runs only 97 minutes), defines its parameters clearly, makes its case, and leaves us with the pleasant knowledge that we've seen a thesis argued well in this case, Dorothy's old rubric that "a house is not a home." Hardly original, perhaps, but not without a certain currency in the new era of suburban anomie housed in conspicuous consumption.

Darryl Kerrigan (Michael Caton), the goodhearted, rumpled-face patriarch of a close-knit, eccentrically blue-collar clan, decides that he is not going to take the government-mandated foreclosure lying down. Although the ramshackle house he built 25 years ago on the outskirts of Melbourne and which he has "organically expanded" from time to time is only yards from one of the airport's runways, it is, as Darryl says, where "our family was built, where people care about you, care for you, where you come back to, where our memories are." Kerrigan and family have accommodated living with noise and landfills and a vista dominated by powerlines, but they do not believe they should have to accommodate losing their unique place in the universe so that the airport can lay in one more runway.

The cast of The Castle is winningly unaffected. Under Sitch's direction, their individual quirks, frustrations, and dreams seem uncontrived and lived-in, and even more eloquent is the film's success in creating a true sense of an integrated unit. Anne Tenney, as Darryl's wife Sal, creates a sympathetic woman whose focus has never swerved from being her husband's biggest fan, raising children who understand what a family can be, making good casseroles, and keeping her hair in place. The Kerrigans' fierce loyalty as a family embraces the son who is serving a five-year sentence for robbery no less than daughter Tracey (Sophie Lee) who has proudly graduated from cosmetology school as a hairstylist. (Another son, who is particularly shy, at times nearly non-verbal, is encouraged quite naturally by his family toward a kind of eloquence in his fascination with inventing gadgets.)

The Kerrigan case is finally taken on by a retired Queen's Councilor who believes that the Australian constitution does not allow for the government to "compulsorily acquire" a citizen's home without "just terms." He argues that fiscal remuneration for the house cannot "justly" compensate for the intangible but fundamental human values that have built the Kerrigans' home.

Although we may be invited to laugh occasionally at the Kerrigans' lack of sophistication or their sense of taste, The Castle is never condescending. If anything, they have much to teach many upscale Americans who have every material semblance of a domestic arrangement and not a shred of family sensibility, and who are raising a new breed of latchkey children who are well-stocked with computers and cell phones but who never sit down with their parents for dinner.

If you haven't already, you may want as its eponymous hero suggests at one point to the object of his affection, Felicity Shagwell to "put in the good foot and toddle along, get in the groove, and do the bad thing." In other words, see Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. There is no good reason for doing so except that there is no good reason for not doing so.

Austin is not about reason; Austin is about laughing so hard in spite of yourself that you wonder how you will explain yourself if later, at work or a dinner party, a friend says incredulously, "You went to see that?" My advice is to sit back and enjoy this guilty pleasure and not worry about the quizzical uninitiated. Just wink at them and say: "Oh, behaaaave. Really, baby. It's totally shagadelic!"

True, it's an acquired taste. This reviewer was not alone two years ago when he dismissed the low-budget prototype Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery as a one-note, overextended sketch. This time out, I found myself defenseless from the start, despite the film's general mindlessness and its sophomoric raunch. The bigger-budget production values allow for fuller comic context; the eminently goofy hero is now backgrounded by groovy art direction, and pop-culture visual references abound with gleeful resonance. In the first film, hapless superspy Austin Powers (Mike Myers) who, despite his yellowed overbite, tilted hornrims, and slightly-too-short velvet pants, fancies himself to be fatally cool in any situation and an almost psychedelic catnip in the boudoir – awakened in 1997 from a 30-year cryogenically frozen sleep. This time, Austin time-travels back to his natural '60s milieu in pursuit of his arch-nemesis Dr. Evil (also played by Myers). Myers wrote the first script and co-wrote, with Michael McCullers, the latest installment; Jay Roach directed both.

The pop phenomenon of Austinmania has most to do with the comic talents of Mike Myers. In Austin Powers, he has created a ridiculous hero with an impenetrable self-confidence and goodheartedness a sort of idiot Don Quixote (despite the fact that in the end he does, however improbably, always get the girl and save the world from evil). The character embodies perfectly a delicate balance between our fascination with the past three decades of pop culture and our capacity for sending it up, for laughing at ourselves.

Although the Austin theatres may be packed with youngsters this summer, it is actually the middle-age audience that is more fully equipped to enjoy the film. Day-glo satin Nehru jackets and breathily earnest lines, like "It's a complete turn-on, baby," are best savored by those who knew them firsthand in all their cutting-edge glory. When you find that the laughter elicited by the film's hilarious satire evokes a tinge of tenderness as well, then then, you will know what the Austin hoopla is all about. Yeah, baby. Too right.

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