Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Antony J Bowman
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Claudia Karvan, Jeanie Drynan, Andrew S Gilbert,Angie Milliken, Bruce Venables.

Jack Willis (Hugh Jackman) drives a road train across the Australian outback for a living. To fill in time during the long stretches of open road, he has written a novel, a mushy romance set against the background of World War I. Anxious to maintain his he-man image, Jack submitted the novel to a Sydney publisher under the pseudonym of Ruby Vale, a close friend. The tomboyish Ruby (Claudia Karvan, from Dating The Enemy, etc) owns the Boomerang Cafe in the middle of nowhere and loves flying her old crop duster plane. Ruby is blissfully unaware of Jack’s harmless deception until Ziggy (Angie Milliken), a publishing representative, shows up.

Ziggy whisks Ruby off to Sydney on a whirlwind publicity tour to promote the book, and Jack accompanies her, posing as her manager. Romance slowly blossoms between the pair, who have always maintained a polite distance back home. As is the norm in these comedies, romance does not always follow an easy path, although audiences will quickly recognise where the film is headed. Ruby eventually has to choose between the adventurous and irreverent Jack or her fiance, the fastidious stick-in-the-mud Hamish (Andrew S Gilbert), the local vet who has his own views on marriage and the role of women.

Most of the fun with modern romantic comedies lies in the journey that brings the two reluctant lovers together. This rather bland and innocuous romantic comedy from local writer/director Antony J Bowman is cliched, and follows a somewhat predictable formula. In some ways this is also a fish out of water scenario, as the outback pair hit the unfamiliar bright lights of Sydney, and encounter the false sincerity of industry parties.

The film derives its humour from the tension between Jack and Ruby, and also from the gentle way in which Bowman pricks away at the usual stereotypes. However, his attitude towards the locals of the small, unnamed outback town is a little patronising and condescending. Despite the seven years that Bowman apparently spent perfecting the script, Paperback Hero is still flawed, and some of its promising ideas are not fully developed.

There is plenty of chemistry and sexual tension between stars Jackman and Karvan, and there is enough genial wit to keep audiences chuckling along for much of the duration.

Jackman, who has wowed audiences on stage in productions like Sunset Boulevard, easily handles the transition to the big screen, and makes the most of his role as a likeable larrikin. He has the looks, the presence and the charisma to become our next major international film star if he chooses the right roles. Karvan delivers a solid performance as the no-nonsense Ruby. Bowman’s wife Jeanie Drynan makes the most of her smaller role as Suzie, the manager of the Boomerang cafe, who wants to establish her own independence.

Despite its faults, Paperback Hero is certainly much more entertaining than the recent, abysmal Dear Claudia. This lightweight comedy does have its moments, and will please undemanding audiences!

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