Gold Coast Film Festival Review: Pork Pie (New Zealand, 2017) only bolsters the legacy of the original

After more than thirty years, the amber Mini has once more made the journey from tip to tip in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Pork Pie brings the 1981 New Zealand classic Goodbye Pork Pie into the 21st century, and it returns with more than just the mini.

Goodbye Pork Pie played a significant role in New Zealand cinema. The film heralded an opportunity for New Zealand people to tell New Zealand narratives, a concept that had previously been met with stunted box office returns and wavering critical reception. It was an important film driven by director Geoff Murphy and it is his son, Matt Murphy, who brings the classic into an age when New Zealand cinema is more certain of itself than ever.

The story begins as Luke (James Rolleston), on the run from a crew of thieves, boosts a Mini Cooper S and on a tight bend somewhere outside of Auckland, barely misses a hitchhiking, down-on-his-luck, Jon (Dean O’Gorman). Headed in the same direction, the two set off south, where Jon hopes he can confront his former girlfriend Suzie (Antonia Prebble) after pulling a no-show on their wedding.

The duo becomes three after picking up Kiera (Ashleigh Cummings) from a fast food restaurant, and the ‘Blondini Gang’ is born. Police forces pursue the trio across both Islands of New Zealand, with Kiera establishing the three as animal rights vigilantes after taking the tour to social media, and Jon haplessly keeping his hopes up that once he arrives in Invercargill, his ex will take him back.

Pork Pie is a blockbuster that manifests as the 1981 version without shackles. That is, it goes big, and doesn’t seem to compromise. The production value in Pork Pie makes the film look like a genuine Hollywood action flick, with massive car chases shot from helicopters, exploding vehicles and some of the best stunts from a Mini since The Italian Job. It could be in some part attributed to Matt Murphy’s background in shooting advertisements, but the film shows no constraints to budget like the original and the epic scenes come together with precise execution.

Pork Pie adapts the original narrative for a contemporary audience, and it does this to some effect. There are added layers to the original story that don’t take away from the journey, but at times fail to add engaging content (Jon’s book is scarcely mentioned in the second half of the film).

Where the film finds a balance however, is in the blend between new audiences and the ethos of the original ‘road movie’. Scenes where the Blondini gang join in chorus on Scribe’s Not Many or the selfie session while Lorde’s Royals plays from an old record in the background, demonstrate the harmony between the old and the new, and help the film reach new frontiers without compromising the original film.

Each member of the Blondini Gang gives commendable performances as their respective characters, both individually and as a cast. The chemistry between Luke and Keira is elegant and subtle so that the relationship is always believable and progresses relative to the film. Ashleigh Cummings is provoking as Keira, even if her character is sometimes shadowed by the bromance of the two leads.

Child prodigy James Rolleston has matured since Boy and continues to improve with a solid performance as the reticent Luke. His acting is magnified by the performance of Dean O’Gorman, who together the two look like high school buddies reconnected. Their banter and natural chemistry makes the dialogue seem unwritten and more like a product of an improvised back and forth.

The film succeeds in comedy both in built up jokes and in the immediate puns and colloquialisms that fill the space between the action. The jokes and banter have an authentic New Zealand personality that feels fresh and not so distant from the comedy in Hunt for The Wilderpeople. When the film does break from comedy, it is just as effective in crafting depth throughout the plot. It’s easy to laugh at Jon’s failures in one scene and then pity him for those failures in the next, and it’s only as Jon pokes his head through the Mini’s sunroof and calls out to Invercargill that you realize how much more than comedy his story has become.

At times Pork Pie fails to suspend the disbelief, but it is never in the film’s most intense moments. It is testament to Matt Murphy to without doubt believe that a Mini could board a moving train. It’s the smaller moments like cops failing to apprehend stationary fugitives that are harder to let slip. There’s some dated stoner comedy that briefly takes place in an archaic ‘munchies scene’, seeming the black sheep to the rest of the film’s fresh comedic approach.

It would be a mistake to not mention just how good the film looks. While the scenery is much the same as the original, it’s captured in different ways. The background and the Mini are as much characters of the film as Luke, Jon and Keira. Grassy plains, desolate yellow fields and mountain lakes give the film its identity and the beauty of the country has been paid tribute through Crighton Bone’s visceral cinematography.

Pork Pie is exciting, It is genuine and it pays homage to the original while pushing it to new frontiers. Stacked with great performances and a promising feature length debut from Matt Murphy, it is the Goodbye Pork Pie for the millennial generation and a film that serves only to bolster the legacy of the original.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Pork Pie was reviewed at the Gold Coast Film Festival, and will be released in Australian cinemas on May 4th.