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Thursday, November 13, 2014

THE NUGGET -- movie review by Porfle

(This review originally appeared online in 2006.)

THE NUGGET (2002) is a breezy Australian comedy about three blue-collar blokes who dream of getting rich and famous.

Actually, Sue (Dave O'Neil), the lazy one, is already somewhat famous for biting into a store-bought meat pie and pulling a human finger out of his mouth (a rather gag-inducing image). Wookie (Stephen Curry) is a Weekly World News-devouring conspiracy nut who got his nickname because he's convinced he saw one in his backyard once.

And Lotto (Eric Bana, THE HULK, BLACKHAWK DOWN) is pretty much the unluckiest man in the world--his winning Lotto ticket falls through a sewer grate and the three mates fail to find it even after borrowing a bunch of equipment from their highway construction job and digging up the entire street. Plus, every horse he bets on not only loses the race but must be put down afterward.

Yet he and his friends are still good-naturedly optimistic enough to trudge out every weekend to the piece of wasteland they've leased to wander around with a metal detector, prospecting for gold. One day, after a great storm has flooded the area and washed away much of the topsoil, they find it--a chunk of solid gold big enough to choke a Stegosaurus.

If this movie had been about me, it would've concluded with a montage of me selling the enormous "nugget", getting incredibly rich, and living happily ever after--the end. But, of course, it's never quite that simple in movies like this (think of THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE or IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD), and before Lotto, Wookie, and Sue get to enjoy their wonderful find, if ever, they must endure about an hour-and-a-half of comedic complications.

First, they put off cashing in the nugget so they can buy up the leases surrounding theirs and look for more gold before word of their find gets out. Next, Wookie's wife, Darlene (Sallyanne Ryan), finds that her husband's name is the only one on the lease, meaning that the nugget belongs to them, which pits the wives against each other and threatens to break up the mates. And finally, their nemesis, Ratner (Peter Moon), a wonderfully sleazy junkyard owner with a lease next to theirs, witnesses the discovery and steals the nugget after they've buried it in Lotto's backyard.

Much furious, sitcom-type activity surrounds the trio's attempt to retrieve the nugget even as Ratner makes plans with the local jeweler, an unscrupulous character named Dimitri (Vince Colosimo, CHOPPER) to unload it. Sue's wife, Moon Choo (the very likable Karen Pang), is enlisted to impersonate a buyer from Hong Kong who offers Ratner a better price while trying to locate his hiding place (it's behind his livingroom couch).

My favorite supporting character, though, is Ratner's German assistant, Jurgen (Alan Brough), a sensitive soul who often suffers crying fits and bouts of depression over the things his heartless boss makes him do. He's the one who sets the final plot resolution into motion by melting down the nugget, which leads to a strange occurrence that's supposed to have an "ooh, aah" sense-of-wonder feeling about it but left me thinking, "O-o-o-kay..."

If you're in the right frame of mind, you might "ooh, aah" a little, especially if you're lulled into it by the mystical narration of the wizened, mysterious old man named Wally (Max Cullen) who lives in a shack on one of those leases the boys tried to buy and who somehow sees all and knows all. To me, though, it had a bad-Spielberg "Amazing Stories" quality to it, and I didn't care much for that show.

I never can relax and enjoy a movie like this because it's so frustrating to see hard-luck guys that I can identify with come into a great windfall and then lose it, which they almost always do. The moral of the story is usually that they were happier before getting rich and they're better off without all that money. To that I say: "Poppycock!" (Sorry.) So I was worried about that the whole time. Fortunately, though, THE NUGGET does have a pretty happy ending that didn't leave me gritting my teeth in frustration.

But is it funny? Well, not so much "funny" as "amusing." I don't think I actually laughed once the entire time, but I found the antics of these characters and the overall good-natured atmosphere generally enjoyable and only occasionally tiresome.

It was especially interesting to see Eric Bana playing a big, easygoing lug after knowing him only as a tortured scientist who turns into a monster (THE HULK) and an intense super-soldier (BLACKHAWK DOWN). He and his two mates make a good comedy team and I like the way they play off each other even though I couldn't understand some of the heavily Aussie-accented dialogue. I also like Lotto's usual reaction to adversity--he stops, thinks a moment, and says, "Ahh...let's grab a bee-uh."

But my favorite scene, which is perhaps the most wonderful moment in the whole movie, is when the boys are bringing the nugget home in their pickup after first discovering it, and pull into a truck stop for some hamburgers. After searching their pockets, they come up just short of the money needed to pay the counter lady, and--realizing the absurdity of the situation--look at each other and start to laugh joyfully. Seeing the lady's perplexed expression, Wookie explains, "It's just that...we're so rich!" and Sue adds, "We could buy two burgers each--easy!"

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