Film Review: The Merger

This annoying Australian comedy drawn from star comedian Damian Callinan’s solo show and personal experience is a forced would-be charmer where character is awkwardly emphasised over football and uncomfortably strained points are made about refugees.

Directed by Mark Grentell (who directed, co-wrote and co-produced the rougher, cheaper sporty pic Backyard Ashes, also with Callinan), it might score a goal or two for good intentions and at least trying, but the performances are too often over-the-top, the sentiment is cloying and the general Aussie-ness of it all proves cringeworthy.

The fictional town of Bodgy Creek (actually Wagga Wagga) is falling apart and former AFL star Troy Carrington (Callinan) lives on its outskirts, a pariah in the community due to his leading of protests that accidentally led to the closure of the local timber mill. He’s befriended by young Neil (Rafferty Grierson), who’s still struggling with the death of his Dad a year ago in a car accident, and the plot mechanics start grinding away when it transpires that Neil’s widowed Mum Angie (Kate Mulvany) runs the nearby refugee support centre.

This cheesy niceness is compromised, however, by Neil’s granddad Bull Barlow (John Howard), a loudmouthed racist and president of the football club who hams it up so hugely right at the start that he winds up in hospital. Bull hates Troy and like everyone else he calls our hero ‘Town Killer’. He fights hard when it’s improbably but inevitably decided that Troy coach the footy team to help raise the morale of the town, and our boy selects refugees to play including the Syrian Sayyid (Fayssal Bazzi offering the subtlest performance in the whole film).

The hapless foreigners must train alongside a mob of stereotyped Aussies like Porterhouse (Aaron Gocs), Harpo (Ben Knight) and Goober (Nick Cody), but soon everyone’s bonding in standard contrived fashion while, on the sidelines, Troy and Angie are getting closer and closer. Will this lead to more scenery-chomping fury from Howard’s Bull? Strewth, will it ever!

Australian comedies are always a dubious lot and this is no different, with few laughs, endless dinkum Ockerisms, a calculatedly crowd-pleasing edge and well-meaning messages that are virtually tackled to the ground and beaten senseless.

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