Friday, December 25, 2015

QUEUE CLEANSING: Tomorrow, When the War Came (2010)

                So I have decided to use this Christmas vacation to clean up my Netflix instant queue.  I have quite a few war movies that have accumulated over the years.  I keep meaning to get to them, but to tell the truth I have a strong suspicion that most of them suck.  It’s time to find out.  The plan is to watch as many as I can in the next two weeks and do mini-reviews on them.  Hopefully I’ll save my readers the pain of watching them.  But who knows, there may be some gems.  Let’s start with what looks like a “Hunger Games” wannabe.

                “Tomorrow, When the War Began” is an Aussie flick based on an apparently very popular series of young adult novels.  The series of seven novels chronicle a group of teenagers conducting a guerrilla war against an occupying power.  The novels were written by John Marston.  The movie was written and directed by Stuart Beattie.  It was a big hit in Australia, but did not travel well and made nary a blip in America.  Since the American market rulz, the lack of success in the States put the kibosh on any sequels.  Hello, Ender.  Meet Ellie.

                The movie is off to a horrific start when a teenage romp in the outback is doomed by “what’s the worst that can happen?” being uttered.  Ellie (Caitlin Stasey) is joined by her BFF Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood) and her boyfriend Kevin (Lincoln Lewis).  Coming along for heterogeneous group reasons are bad boy Homer (Deniz Akdeniz), nerdy Asian Lee (Chris Pang), rich girl Fiona (Phoebe Tonkin), and preacher’s daughter Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings).  They do the usual teenagers on a campout stuff.  The only unusual thing is the sight of an air armada instead of a meteor shower.  Being well versed in current events, they immediately surmise that the threatening talk of the resource-challenged “Coalition Nations” has decided to rape Australia of its ample resources and its Fosters.  Just kidding, they are just as clueless as American teenagers would be.  So when they return to their empty town, they are a bit perplexed.  A trip to the local everybody-but-them internment center and the eyewitness to an execution tell them this is not Mayberry anymore.  Ellie quickly assumes the role of badass as she blows up a riding lawn mower to eliminate pursuers.  Explosion #1.  A helicopter napalms the house they are hiding in.  Explosion #2.  Ellie steals a garbage truck for a chase scene involving machine gun enhanced dune buggies.  In between explosions and chases they even out their numbers by enlisting a pot head named Chris (Andy Ryan) whose short term memory does not include the fact that his town has been occupied by Asian Stormtroopers.  Now we can ponder which of the ladies is going to get to pair off with this loser.  War is hell!
from left to right:  the dope head, the priss, the nerd, the riot girl,
the juvenile delinquent, the preacher's daughter

                The party of eight high-tails it back to the ominously named outback campsite named “Hell”.  They discuss options, but the discussion comes to a halt as Ellie proclaims “It’s time to go to war”.  They will earn their freedom by cutting the enemy supply route by blowing up a bridge.  This will involve an oil tanker truck and a herd of cattle.  Prepare for EXPLOSION #3.
                “Tomorrow, When the War Came” is obviously aimed at an audience that I am not a member of.  I had never heard of the series it is based on.  Since it is not in the same familiar to baby boomer sphere that “The Hunger Games” exists in and I am not enamored with that movie series, I naturally was skeptical of this Aussie product.  Plus it smacked a bit of the egregious “Red Dawn” ilk.  Like “Red Dawn”, it plays to teenage fantasies of what they would do if adults were out of the way and they had to fend for themselves.  A real life video game.  I see these movies from the pessimistic perspective of one of the powerless adults.  It’s hard to believe we would not be totally f’ed if the scenarios of these types of movies came about.  However, let the kids have their fun.  Just don’t offend my intelligence too much.  And please kill off some teenagers along the way.

                I found the characters appealing.  The movie must have wanted it that way because there is little dysfunction in the group.  He-man Homer does not question Ellie’s leadership, for instance.  The characters are stock and cover all the major teenage stereotypes.  No surprise there.  The character arcs are also comfortably predictable.  Ellie is hardened by killing and takes charge because somebody has to, damn it!  Kevin panics early on but shakes it off (unrealistically).  Robyn proclaims she “shalt not kill”, but you know that ain’t gonna stick.  Bros before hosanna.  Fi learns sometimes you have to risk breaking a nail.  And so forth.   The ensemble does well enough for a movie of this subgenre.  Nobody shames themselves.

                The plot bounces between teenage chatter and kick-ass set pieces featuring the aforementioned explosions.  The dialogue is fine and not very smirk-worthy.  Some of the plot developments could be considered ridiculous if it were not for the fact that teenagers are involved.  For instance, Ellie and Fi turn off their walkie-talkies to discuss boys, which allows the enemy to sneak up on them.  The pairings do not rise much above PG level.  No one is going to die because they had sex.  This has some elements of a horror movie, but that is not one of them.  It is noteworthy that the most interesting characters are the females.  Ellie makes a good role model for teenage girls who will take to the hills when the Orientals come. And if you don’t want a movie cluttered with adult characters, this movie is for you.

                I found “Tomorrow, When the War Began” to be an entertaining trip into teenage fantasy land.  There is nothing wrong with having this subgenre of teenagers stepping it up into adult dilemmas.  However, as a reviewer I have to point out that by catering to a specific demographic, these movies usually sacrifice elements that make movies excellent.  I am quite sure Beattie was not dreaming of a Best Picture Oscar.  I am equally sure he expected the movie to be the start of a franchise.  It’s a shame it will not be because I would have liked to have seen the sequel.  As it is, I might check out the book and do a book/movie post in the future. 

GRADE  =  C  

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