This New Zealand comedy-crime caper is best described as Guy Ritchie crossed with Taika Waititi.
Freddy and Marvin are two dim-witted mates who apply for a job with a local crime boss, only to find themselves bumbling their way through bungled robberies and botched-up murders. When they’re forced to kill the guy who’s shagging their boss’s wife, they inadvertently cross a different crime boss and set in motion a turf war and tangled web of misunderstandings.
The story begins with a Mexican standoff, with all of the characters being held at gunpoint as Freddy’s voice narrates the situation, taking us back to how it all started. His voice is one of a Maori heritage, with the type of inflection that often defines New Zealand comedies.
Lowdown Dirty Criminals is immediately striking, with a polished production design that lifts it to a higher calibre than many Kiwi indie films before it. The dialogue is sharp and snappy – and mostly buffoonish – and relies heavily on the distinctive charm unique to New Zealand comedy. Director Paul Murphy has worked extensively behind the scenes on many large productions, including The Lord of the Rings, The Proposition and King Kong, and his dexterity from the director’s chair here is immaculate.
James Rolleston plays Freddy, and he delivers a comedic bullseye. His narration is witty, and his overall performance embodies a naivety that earns his character sympathy and affection in equal measure. Samuel Austin is Marvin, the brainier numb-nut of the two, and his support gives their rapport an almost stoner-buddy quality – it’s a dynamic that works well.
The real surprise of the film, however, comes by way of a phenomenal performance by AUS/NZ screen icon Rebecca Gibney (Halifax) as The Upholsterer, a ruthless crime boss who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty (and very dirty at that). Rarely do we get to see a performer go as far against type as she does here, and it is a delight to behold. Gibney relishes every morsel of her mean and violent persona, seizing every opportunity to curse and play nasty.
The story itself is the kind of generic caper we’ve seen in countless British crime flicks, and there’s that whiff of Tarantino that might otherwise feel redundant if it weren’t for the New Zealand charm. Nevertheless the film wears its influences on its sleeve and makes no apologies. And with a brisk running time of 86-minutes, it moves at a cracking pace. Consistently funny, irreverent and handsome… and when it comes to exportable local content, it should gain traction internationally.
In cinemas: August 20, 2020 (excluding Victoria)
Starring: James Rolleston, Samuel Austin, Rebecca Gibney
Directed by: Paul Murphy