Sketch comedy has been a staple of Australian television for decades, from Comedy Company and Full Frontal to Skithouse and more recently, Black Comedy. TV sketch has launched the careers of some of Australia’s finest talent (Eric Bana, Jane Turner, Shaun Micallef) and the source of countless quotable characters over the years.
This month, Amazon Prime Video is bringing the next instalment of Aussie sketch comedy to our screens with The Moth Effect, a 6-part series filmed in Sydney. Series creators Nick Boshier (Beached Az, Soul Mates, Bondi Hipsters) and Jazz Twemlow (The Roast) bring together a cast of Australian and New Zealand talent including comedians and co-writers Mark Humphries, Nazeem Hussain, Dave Woodhead, and Sarah Bishop.
Poking fun at corporations, reality TV, and society as a whole, The Moth Effect revels in absurdity. Social and political issues are mocked with a cheeky blend of pop culture parodies and subversive satire, all with an impressive line-up of guest stars the likes of which is rarely seen in sketch TV outside of The Muppet Show. Names like Bryan Brown, Vincent D’Onofrio, David Wenham, Jack Thompson, Miranda Otto, Ben Lawson, Peter O’Brien, Kate Box, Zoe Terakes, Miranda Tapsell and Jake Ryan all show up to make fools of themselves.
There’s little narrative coherence here, each episode has a run time of about 17 minutes, so the jokes fly hard and fast, though not all of them stick the landing. The sketches intertwine, looping back on themselves for a second go, then suddenly give way for a fake commercial or mini music video.
The show lives up to its name, like a moth circling a flickering lightbulb, we’re constantly side-tracked by shiny things, giving us the feel of flicking between channels and circling back around again just in time to catch the punchline.
While the humour itself might be hit and miss, the rapid-fire pace means that even before you’ve had a chance to roll your eyes, we’re moving on to the next skit and suddenly there’s a Godzilla-sized David Attenborough or mother-loving time-traveller to distract you.
Zoe Lister-Jones co-directs (she also directed The Craft: Legacy) and stars in this all-star comedy that premiered at Sundance. Plot-wise, kinda like Australia's own These Final Hours, but funny, amiright?
2017’s The Hitman’s Bodyguard was a B-movie with B-movie writing (the tone of which was hastily changed prior to filming, always a great start(!)) and B-movie aspirations… but with a capital-A-movie cast. The cast and the performances wound up being the main reason to watch Hitman’s Bodyguard, and in the process of making this sequel, director Patrick Hughes must’ve kept note of that reaction because the onscreen charisma has grown even bigger the second time around.
The humour on display not only hits a lot better but is delivered with astounding efficacy by all involved. Ryan Reynolds continues to play well against type as the neurotic bodyguard, Sam Jackson coasts on his laidback attitude and a wealth of facial expressions to great effect, and Salma Hayek is so delightfully unhinged as to threaten to break the walls of reality in her wake.
Actually, ‘unhinged’ might be the best way to describe this whole movie, as the sheer degree to which the nutty roams free is astonishing. Every single aspect of the narrative, from the kitschy Bond pastiche of the villain’s plot and personality (seeing Antonio Banderas back in Robert Rodriguez mode is highly satisfying) to the action scenes that are among the few that can stand alongside the ludicrous bombast of a Fast & Furious sequel, even the grasping at ‘family film’ cred through the same avenues that Deadpool 2 navigated, is injected with enough pure crazy as to guarantee an audience contact high.
As simple as the European-vacation-with-firearms plot is, the almost 2 hour running time should feel a lot longer than it ultimately does here. Much like with the first film, the plot is the least interesting aspect of the production, letting the engagement ride on the backs of the performances and the action beats. Unlike the first film, however, this doesn’t feel like it needs to be carried by everything else except the writing. Instead, because the chemistry between each and every actor is tighter than a bomb bracelet, it’s more like a really fun road trip where the destination, and even the path, doesn’t even matter next to the joy of the ride itself.
Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, much like its title, is unwieldy to the verge of self-parody, but there’s something consistently endearing about how much it embraces its own goofiness. It melds the liberating lack of fucks given of a B-movie with the blockbuster polish and acting pedigree of an A-movie, making for an exhilarating, if potentially exhausting, dosage of glee that’ll break ribs quicker than a shotgun to the chest.
Tate Taylor has had a rough time of it as a Hollywood creative. His last two features wound up entirely overshadowed by ulterior factors (Ma and its release burial, Ava and its production history before Taylor was brought in), and his earlier works range from good but basically ignored (Get On Up) to aging like a fine milk down the back of the sofa (The Help). The actor turned director knows how to bring a capital-A cast together for whatever he has planned, but the more that time passes, the more wasteful that practice appears. And in Taylor’s entire filmography to date, no singular film fits the description of ‘wasteful’ better than his latest.
The cast in attendance maintains his eye-catching pedigree, but that turns sour once it sets in, with just how miscast everyone here is. Allison Janney plays a housewife having a mental breakdown, which isn’t tragically hilarious nor hilariously tragic, just awkward to witness; while Regina Hall (and the roadkill strapped to her head) as a determined police officer gives law enforcement the Help treatment. To say nothing of Wanda Sykes still being allowed in films for some reason, Awkwafina as a wannabe-intimidating thug, Juliette Lewis as an amalgamation of everything Ricki Lake has ever done in her career – it’s a mess, meaning that the one saving grace of Taylor’s usual fare, the performances, isn’t to be found here. And it only gets worse from there.
The story here, written by Amanda Idoko in her first feature screenplay, is basically the Karen to end all Karens, with Janney’s Sue Buttons fuelling herself with self-help affirmations as she stirs up a media circus over her ‘missing’ husband. The film tries for a kitschy but pointed tone like a John Waters movie (Polyester and Hairspray in particular spring to mind), but because the satire is so tame and the attempts at camp extremity even more so, it fails to say much of anything worthwhile. Watching Regina Hall talk about how “these white bitches are crazy”, on a loop for an hour and a half, has the exact same effect as watching the film proper, and about as funny to boot.
There’s also a very heavy aroma of the Coen brothers throughout this thing, with the plot held together by characters tripping over each other’s mistakes while the reality of the situation is far simpler (and dumber) than any of them realise. But thanks to Taylor’s direction, this all comes across more like an idiot plot that thinks pointing out its own idiocy is enough to excuse that they couldn’t come up with anything sharper to put on the screen.
Breaking News In Yuba County is a broken film, simultaneously too silly to make any lucid statements and yet too self-serious to be any fun. There might be a modicum of entertainment value here for the sheer trainwreck of it all, but even then, Tate Taylor still has a lot to answer for with this one.
Swedish filmmaker Jonathan Wilhelmsson's imaginative sci-fi short is more Her than Star Wars, exploring the simulation hypotheses in a cute and entertaining way. Local actor James Fraser's voice can be heard in the film, which was exec produced by Australian Holly Fraser, making this technically an Australian/Swedish co-pro.