Directed By: Michael Pearce
Starring: Bruno Lawrence, Rodney Harvey, Arna-Maria Winchester
Tag line: "A young street kid from Brooklyn has the ultimate test"
Trivia: This film was pre-sold to US distributor Goldfarb for $850,000 but Goldfarb later backed out of this commitment claiming they did not have the money
Shortly after his mother passes away, teenager Danny Malloy (Rodney Harvey) leaves his Brooklyn home and heads to Australia to reunite with his estranged father, Nat (Bruno Lawrence). A crop duster by trade, Nat, who lives on a secluded ranch with girlfriend Sal (Arna-Maria Winchester) and her daughter Stevie (19-year-old Miranda Otto, in one of her first screen roles), is about to lose his house if he doesn’t come up with a few thousand dollars… and fast! So, to raise the much-needed cash, Nat agrees to fly some drugs into the area for Carlo (Luciano Catenacci), a local Mafioso. Danny, Sal, and Stevie, though not happy with Nat’s new “occupation”, decide to support him, while their neighbor, an aboriginal witch doctor named Kulu (Bobby Smith), warns that trouble is on its way.
So, when a fire (which was accidentally started by Danny) destroys the family barn, a nervous Nat calls Carlo and makes arrangements to deliver the drugs ahead of schedule. Accompanied by Danny, Nat flies to the designated meeting place, where, despite a few tense moments, the exchange is made. But unbeknownst to the father and son, one of the mobster’s associates put a poisonous snake in the cockpit of their plane, and during the flight home, Nat is bitten on the leg, forcing Danny to take the controls. With no idea where he’s going, Danny flies way off course and crash lands in a remote mountain range. To get his father the medical attention he needs to survive, Danny, with a little help from Kulu, sets out into the wilderness, beginning what will prove to be the adventure of his lifetime.
The opening half of 1987’s Initiation plays like a coming-of-age story, with Danny adapting to his new life in Australia while also trying to build a relationship with his father (not an easy task, seeing as Nat has other things on his mind). But the moment that plane crashes in the picturesque Blue Mountain region of New South Wales, Initiation shifts gears and becomes a top-notch adventure film, following Danny as he tries to make his way back to civilization. Though his performance was hit and miss early on, actor Rodney Harvey shines in the scenes where his character is lost in the jungle. One particular sequence in which Danny inadvertently eats some hallucinogenic mushrooms, is especially well-handled by the actor, with director Michael Pearce doing his part as well, combining time lapse and animation, to convey Danny’s confused state of mind.
If Initiation has a weakness, it’s the character of the aboriginal neighbor, Kulu, who spends most of the movie spouting mystical nonsense posing as advice for Danny. Though well played by Bobby Smith (whose performance earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination from the Australian Film Institute), Kulu seems out of place in a movie about a father and son trying to mend their strained relationship (the later scenes, where he “appears” in the wilderness to help Danny find his way out, are so awkward that they’re almost laughable). This aside, Initiation is a well-made family drama and an even better adventure story that successfully merges the two into a satisfying whole.