We Yanks have enjoyed quite a few daffy Australian comedies over the years, and I think part of the reason is that, in addition to being so sunny, they’re also usually free of any social importance. “Muriel’s Wedding,” “The Dish,” “The Castle” and “My Myself I,” to name a few, are upbeat, often with sly dark comedy lurking in the fringes, and none of them care too much about making a point.
“Danny Deckchair,” on the other hand, combines Australia’s laid-back attitude with Hollywood’s penchant for ham-fisted moralizing. In America, it’s not enough that the characters enjoy a wacky adventure; they have to LEARN something, too. I liked it when Australian comedies offered a reprieve from this, but oh well. “Danny Deckchair” is generally funny enough to make sitting through its predictable, half-hearted attempts at lesson-learning tolerable.
Danny (Rhys Ifans) is an easily distracted, mildly competent Sydney construction worker with a bossy live-in girlfriend named Trudy (Justine Clarke) and a lot of good mates. But Danny gets bored easily, and when he’s bored, he hatches unusual schemes — like the time he made a slingshot big enough to launch a person, and then launched a person.
This time, sullen over Trudy’s nixing of his vacation plans and also over her flirtation with unctuous TV anchorperson Sandy Upman (Rhys Muldoon), Danny affixes several dozen helium balloons to a lawnchair (or “deckchair,” as they apparently call it down there) and rockets upward into the summer sky. He is quickly gone from sight, and Trudy and his friends — and soon the whole country, via TV coverage — are abuzz with speculation and worry about what’s become of him.
What becomes of him is that he lands in a small town called Clarence, which is currently in the midst of its annual Macadamia Festival. He alights in a tree owned by Glenda Lake (Miranda Otto), the local wallflower with no friends, though in a town like this, everyone is at least friendly, whether they’re actually “friends” or not. For Danny, being in Clarence is like starting over with a new life, one where people like his ideas and treat him with respect and neighborliness. He’s in no hurry to go home, and since the TV news for some reason never shows a recent photo of him, none of the locals recognize him. For Glenda, there’s a strange but likable man who has literally dropped from the sky into her world.
Back in Sydney, Trudy parlays Danny’s tragic disappearance into fame of her own, making her sufficiently loathsome for us not to care when Danny inevitably falls in love with Glenda instead.
And that’s the movie’s problem. It’s funny and charming up to a point, and then it becomes pedestrian. The odd folks in Clarence, Rhys Ifans’ agility in comedy both verbal and physical, the amusing touches in Jeff Balsmeyer’s script — it’s all well and good, but then it’s bogged down by the tedious plotting that only goes where we expect it to.
Balsmeyer directed, too, his first time in that capacity after years of experience as a storyboard artist. With a little more fat-trimming and a little less self-conscious quirkiness, he could be a wonderful storyteller. Like Danny, he has some attention-grabbing eccentric ideas; he just isn’t sure what to do with them.
B- (1 hr., 30 min.; )