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An unwieldy stab at an old-fashioned movie epic, Baz Luhrmann’s Australia is corny, implausible, well intentioned and even somewhat enjoyable in its own way, at least for a while. A faultlessly honorable, deliriously manly cattle driver named Drover (Hugh Jackman) strikes conventional sparks with British noblewoman Lady Sarah Ashley (a bone-white Nicole Kidman) in the flat-out campy first scenes; when the uptight Ashley starts to coo over a kangaroo, it isn’t long before the cute critter is shot dead. This opening is frantically edited in the manner of Lurhmann’s Moulin Rouge, butAustralia soon settles down and drops its cheeky tone for a long cattle drive in which the stars lead a pack of largely computer-generated cows across the dusty outback. Meanwhile, Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), the outsized, inexplicable villain of the film, plots ceaselessly against our hero and heroine and his own half-caste son (big-eyed, likable Brandon Walters, who narrates most of the movie). The third act, which stages the attack on the city of Darwin by the Japanese in 1942, piles coincidence onto coincidence, so that even the game and highly sincere Jackman seems totally lost toward the end. Kidman purveys her usual mix of unnerving blank stares, hints of neuroticism and weirdly dehydrated glamour; you could fit her emotional range on the head of a pin, but she functions as a star here, as does Jackman. It isn’t their fault that the massive film starts to collapse around them long before the Walkabout-meets-Out of Africa conclusion.

20th Century Fox
165 min
Baz Luhrmann
Baz Luhrmann, Stuart Beattie, Ronald Harwood, Richard Flanagan
Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Brandon Walters, David Wenham, David Ngoombujarra, Bryan Brown, Jack Thompson, Jacek Koman, David Gulpilil, Ben Mendelsohn, Bruce Spence, John Jarratt, Bill Hunter, Essie Davis, Barry Otto, Arthur Dignam, Max Cullen, Sandy Gore, Crusoe Kurddal, Kerry Walker, Angus Pilakui, Lillian Crombie, Yuen Wah

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