This hilarious, raucous, balls to the wall comedy – the feature debut from the makers of DIY classic Back Of The Y Masterpiece Television – is an instant classic. One might accuse it of having some naff acting, being crass and foul mouthed but you couldn’t say it isn’t genuine. In their celebration of New Zealand (and all its crapness), filmmakers Chris Stapp & Matt Heath have made a fireball of a movie, quintessentially Kiwi, that was about the most fun I’ve had in a cinema all year.
Optimistic scallywag Randy Campbell (Stapp) dreams of being New Zealand’s greatest living stuntman, but he’s only a toilet cleaner for the real star: Dick Johansonson (Heath). Dick is a real cock, aggressively blocking anyone trying to share the limelight. The story follows Dick’s team (The Timaru Hellriders) as they tour their way up the country, vying for money and fame. Cue: stunts, explosions, blood, filth & piss-taking.
It’s endlessly quotable. “At the ass end of the world is a land they call New Zea-land… there’s the North Island, that’s the good one, and there’s the South Island, which sucks”. Or “I hope you like big tits and cocaine, cause we’re heading the North Island!” Or “Te Puke’s money, glamour, excitement; Timaru’s a shit hole”.
Too often NZ films bend over in trying to appeal to an elusive international audience but, refreshingly, The Devil Dared Me To couldn’t care less. It feels exclusively made for a NZ audience. Who else is going to get it when the greasy money grubber says he’s going to “make some Sir Edmunds”, or what exactly is involved with a “genital hongi”?
Heath & Stapp are the kings of taking the piss, and the film’s masterstoke is how they work this into the NZ setting. Dripping with sarcasm, Te Puke is NZ’s Vegas – flashing neon signs line the glitzy main street; Auckland is where you go to become a movie star, complete with a big Hollywood Hills-like sign in the harbour. In an uncomplicated and very funny manner, the filmmakers create a parallel New Zealand – where NZ’s crapness is celebrated. It’s this very Kiwi perspective and brand of humour, that the filmmakers so effectively put across, that makes The Devil Dared Me To resonate as something very genuine. It’s as if your mates made a feature film (and did a good job).
Director Stapp shoots the action in a simple and un-showy manner, as all good comedies should be, wisely leaving the characters and gags at the core of the film. This is a low budget film (the first from Headstrong, a production company set up to produce NZ digi-features), and the ‘backyard’, DIY feel is pulled off brilliantly – every potential short fall is used to the film’s advantage.
Surprisingly, there’s a sweetness to the film. ‘Farm-dwelling kid aiming big’ is after all a classic tale – one NZers relate to instantly. But more than that, it’s patriotic – not in a gay way but in a funny. It feels as if there’s a NZ flag in almost every scene, Randy’s helmet and stunt car are adorned with the Union Jack and Southern Cross. And dammit if my heart wasn’t near soaring when the camera rose above the ‘Bruno Lawrence Movie Studio’ sign at the entrance to the Auckland dream factory.
It would’ve been easy for The Devil Dared Me To to lose some of the charm of the TV show, and it might be semi-guilty of it in the first half but in the second half the film really comes into its own. Heath and Stapp have nailed it.