Director: Stephen Amis
Screenwriters: Stephen Amis, David Richardson, Serge De Nardo, Angelo Salamanca & Tim Ferguson
Runtime: 91 mins.
Australian Release Date: 22 February 2018
Previewed at: Hoyts, Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park, Sydney, on 18 February 2018.
Sad to say, The BBQ is yet another disappointing 2018 Australian comedy release. Hard on the heels of Stephan Elliott’s cringe-worthy Swinging Safari comes Stephen Amis’s story of an Aussie everyman who loves to fire up the barbie on the weekend. While there’s a bit more to enjoy in this film, it’s not enough to really get your teeth into. In a few weeks we can add That’s Not My Dog to the not-very-funny list of Aus comedies, too. What’s going on? It’s been said on this site before but it must be said again: far too often Australian screenplays get green lit with not enough rigorous assessment, going into production when they are only half-baked and require further rewriting. One of the best home-grown comedies of the last 12 months was Gregory Erdstein and Alice Foulcher’s That’s Not Me and most of that is attributable to the number of rewrites their script went though before putting film in the camera, so to speak.
The BBQ stars Shane Jacobson as the same sort of amiable character he’s played before in films like Kenny and Oddball And The Penguins. In this case he’s Dazza Cook (get it!), a barbeque salesman who, surprise, surprise, loves to entertain his long-suffering wife Diane (Julia Zemiro), son Jayden (Frederik Simpson) and daughter (Lara Robinson), plus assorted friends and neighbours, by cooking for them on Saturdays on his reputedly ancient ‘rum barrel’ BBQ, which he swears has been handed down to him by his forebears. He’s also convinced that one of those ancestors was none other than Captain James Cook who, as every Australian school kid knows, landed on the shores of Botany Bay in April 1770, one of the first Europeans to set foot on the ‘great southern land.’ When one of Dazza’s cook-ups goes disastrously wrong, he is given the opportunity to redeem himself by entering an international barbeque competition. Needing help, he seeks the assistance of a mysterious master known only as The Butcher (Magda Szubanski with a thick Scottish brogue). You don’t require a crystal ball to see where this is heading.
Remarkably, The BBQ manages to be both underdone and hard to swallow; Jacobson’s nice guy persona and Szubanski’s rough Scottish diamond aren’t enough to save this tedious effort from the screenplay’s faults. Yes, there are the occasional gentle laughs but they’re tempered by some really awful racial stereotypes - Manu Feildel plays a dastardly Frenchman, Nicholas Hammond (yes, Friedrich von Trapp from The Sound Of Music!) an archetypical snobby English butler, plus there’s a Zen monk-like Japanese farmer, a couple of 10-gallon hat wearing Texans, some sari-adorned Indians and a few heavily-accented Moslems and more. None of these depictions are particularly cruel but they’re lazy and, worse, not funny. I dunno, maybe all would be forgiven in The BBQ if, instead of grilling Wagyu beef, the participants had cooked turkey, because that’s what they ended up with.