Review: “Pork Pie”

Pork Pie poster

In recent years, New Zealand’s film industry has flourished in leaps and bounds, to the point where its domestic releases are produced to blockbuster-like levels of quality. Although working with a bigger budget has its benefits, it cannot overcome a film’s flaws, as is the case with this Kiwi comedy.

Aspiring author John (Dean O’Gorman) is still coming to terms with his break-up, longing to win back ex-fiancé Susie (Antonia Prebble). After learning that Susie will be attending an upcoming wedding in Wellington, John sets off from his mate’s flat in Auckland with the hope of reconciling their relationship. That hope is dealt a blow when John’s beat-up Holden Kingswood overheats in spectacular fashion, leaving him to carpool his way south.

The only person to offer John a lift is a young man named Luke (James Rolleston, Boy) who is fleeing a group of deviants in a stolen Mini Cooper. Inevitably, the duo have a run-in with the local police, but thanks to the sharp driving skills of Luke, he and John are able to evade the ensuing pursuit.  Soon after their close call, John and Luke make an impromptu stop at a fast food drive-thru, there gaining another passenger – animal rights activist Keira (Ashleigh Cummings).

Believe it or not, Pork Pie is a remake of another Kiwi comedy released in the early Eighties. Geoff Murphy’s Goodbye Pork Pie was one of the first NZ films to achieve mainstream success, and though much of the material hasn’t aged well, it maintains a healthy following in its native land. What’s more peculiar is that the remake is written and directed by Geoff Murphy’s son, Matt. The younger Murphy has placed a number of homages to the original in his film, including the Mini’s registration plate, and the chase scene through Wellington’s train station.

Thankfully, Pork Pie can be enjoyed without having viewed its source material, in part due to its many positive attributes. O’Gorman, Rolleston and Cummings are all entertaining, with the three having very good chemistry – some would say it’s too good; the Dave Dobbyn-esque soundtrack is an aural delight, complementing the stunning shots of rural New Zealand; and the slapstick humour, while not as funny as it could be, does provide the necessary laughs when it most needs to.

Another peculiarity of this movie is its similarity to last year’s Kiwi smash-hit, Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Both films have a young Maori protagonist eluding the authorities with an older Anglo sidekick, becoming national heroes as they do so. Whether these parallels are intentional or not, this unfortunately means that Pork Pie has less of an impact than its contemporary, which is funnier and more original. And that’s a shame, because Pork Pie is quite a charming picture.

There is one other niggle that needs to be addressed. For a movie which proudly puts an apricot-coloured Mini front and centre of its promotional material, there is a distinct lack of it in the film itself. Chase scenes with the Mini are sporadically placed between long, sombre scenes featuring the main characters, and the chase scenes that are there would benefit from some better editing to make them more thrilling.

Something of a missed opportunity, Pork Pie has its merits but could be far more enjoyable. Though it boasts a likeable cast and some humorous moments, its lack of spectacle prevents it from being a must-see blockbuster experience.

3 stars

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