Tuesday, August 25, 2015

#1,835. Initiation (1987) - Spotlight on Australia

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

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 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).

Nat is in a bind. He is about to lose his house if he doesn’t come up with a few thousand dollars… and fast!

To raise the much-needed cash, Nat agrees to shuttle drugs for local Mafioso, Carlo (Luciano Catenacci). Danny, Sal, and Stevie, though not happy with Nat’s new “occupation”, support his decision, even as their neighbor, an aboriginal witch doctor named Kulu (Bobby Smith), warns that trouble is on the way.

So, when a fire (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, after 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, resulting in a series of events that, for Danny, will prove to be the adventure of a 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 the action shifts to the picturesque Blue Mountain region of New South Wales (a direct result of that snake), Initiation changes gears and becomes a top-notch adventure film.

Though his performance was hit and miss early on, actor Rodney Harvey shines in these later scenes. 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 chaotic 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, 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.

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