Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: David Parker
Stars: Noah Taylor, Lachlan Woods, Jessica Clarke, Robert Taylor, Malcolm Kennard, Catherine McClements, Olga Makeeva, David Whiteley, Andy Ryan, John Brumpton.
Cinematographer David Parker has, with his wife writer/director Nadia Tass, created some of the best Australian comedies, with the classic Malcolm and The Big Steal. But when branching out as a filmmaker on his own the results have been a little less spectacular. With The Menkoff Method Parker steps back into the director’s chair for the first time since 1997’s Diana & Me, which was largely scuttled by the real life death of Princess Diana. This is a quirky comedy that unfortunately falls flat.
The once prosperous Endo Bank is struggling. The data processing centre seems to have fallen behind with its processing work. Ambitious and scheming executive Guy Curry (David Whiteley) is approached by Russian HR guru Max Menkoff (Noah Taylor), who says that he can help restore Endo bank and get the best out of its staff with his revolutionary management techniques. But Menkoff has a more ambitious scheme – he plans to rip off the bank’s insurance. To do so he and his two sidekicks – the gun toting Karpov (Malcolm Kennard, from the recent Pawno) and Svetlana (Olga Makeeva) contaminate the office water coolers with a drug that turns all the employees into mindless drones singularly focused on their boring routine number crunching. And a daily regimen of exercise and injections keeps them in line.
All that is except for the introverted and shy analyst David Cork (Lachlan Woods, from tv series Molly, Neighbours, etc), who loves Manga comics and is an aspiring artist. David had spied Svetlana pouring something suspicious into the cooler and has avoided drinking from that source. He pretends to be a drone though to try and figure out what to do. He approaches disillusioned HR manager Marjorie Werne (Water Rats’ Catherine McClements) who has been sidelined by Menkoff. Initially Marjorie seems sympathetic to David’s concerns, but after she is killed David needs to find another way of exposing Menkoff’s scheme.
With the help of Ruby (Jessica Clarke, from Blue Heelers, etc) and ousted former CEO Clive Struthers (veteran Robert Taylor), the meek and mild mannered David sets out to save his colleagues and the bank from the Russians.
With a plot centring around the drudgery of a nine to five office job, corporate intrigue, nasty Russians and white collar crime, there was the germ of a good idea here. But unfortunately it falls flat. The Menkoff Method is the first feature length script from Zac Gillman, who has written a number of short films, but his script unfortunately is cluttered, with too many off the wall ideas crammed into it. The narrative lacks cohesion and credibility and most of the characters are cliched and one dimensional.
The film has been flatly directed by Parker and there is no real sense of tension. It is clumsily staged and most of the attempts at humour fall flat. The limitations of the small budget are obvious too in the limited sets and the staging of the key set pieces. The film was shot in 25 days and included some exterior location work around the streets of Melbourne, with interiors shot at Melbourne’s Docklands Studios. Parker is a renowned cinematographer but he has handed the duties to seasoned second unit photographer Darrin Keogh, but unfortunately the film is visually dull. Some brief vibrantly coloured animated Manga sequences from Vicki Ong add some much needed colour and energy to this strangely inert and bland comedy.
Parker has assembled a solid cast, but the hammy performances largely seem stilted and a little wooden. Both Woods and Clarke hail from a background in television and they make their feature film debut here. There is a the hint of a tentative romance between their characters but it is underplayed and is never allowed to get in the way of the main plot. It’s also a shame to see John Brumpton, one of most charismatic and strongest screen performers, reduced to little more than a thankless cameo as a clueless security guard. Whiteley is over the top and lacks subtlety as the scheming Guy, while Andy Ryan is just obnoxious and annoying as colleague Garry, who likes singing karaoke.
For his part Taylor, who filmed this during a brief three week hiatus from Game Of Thrones, sports an atrocious faux Russian accent and is a little embarrassing as Menkoff. He plays him as a mix of international criminal and mad scientist, but the character is unconvincing. And Taylor still sports his impressive facial hair from Game Of Thrones. Kennard is one of the few bright spots with his comical performance as the dim witted but lethal Karpov.
The Menkoff Method is another in a long line of disappointing quirky Australian comedies that will struggle to find an appreciative audience. It has sat on the shelves for a year before gaining a limited theatrical release, not a good sign in itself.