Tomorrow, When the War Began

Red Dawn? Red Schmawn!

Red Dawn? Red Schmawn!

(2010) Action (Freestyle) Caitlin Stasey, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Lincoln Lewis, Deniz Akdeniz, Phoebe Tonkin , Chris Pang, Ashleigh Cummings, Andrew Ryan, Colin Friels, Don Halpert, Olivia Pigeot, Stephen Bourke, Kelly Butler, Julia Yon, Dane Carson, Matthew Dale, Gary Quay, Michael Camilleri, Masa Yamaguchi, Andy Trieu, Yolandi Franken. Directed by Stuart Beattie

I have to admit that not that long ago Australia was producing some of the best action and adventure movies in the world. Of late they seem to be better at horror films but that doesn’t mean they’re not putting out some entries in the former category.

Ellie (Stasey) is a teenage girl living in a rural Australian community. She’s pretty much an ordinary girl, maybe a little bit precocious. She wants to go on a camping trip to a nearby isolated valley locally known as Hell but her parents won’t let her go unless it’s in a group, so she wrangles her bestie Corrie (Hurd-Wood), Corrie’s boyfriend Kevin (Lewis), Ellie’s next-door neighbor Homer (Akdeniz), the son of the owners of the local Thai restaurant (and a guy Ellie’s been crushing on) Lee (Pang), and her friends Robyn (Cummings) and Fiona (Tonkin).

They take off in the Land Rover of Ellie’s parents and spend an idyllic day in Hell. That night though, Ellie notices the sky filled with military planes. This is a little disconcerting to Ellie but she doesn’t put two and two together right away. It is only after they go home to find their town deserted and all power shut off that they begin to get worried. From a hilltop later that evening they notice the only places with lights on are the hospital and the local stadium. When they investigate the stadium they find that all the townspeople are being held there by a military group of a foreign nation, the insignias unrecognizable to Ellie although most of the soldiers look Asian.

Unfortunately, one of them is detected and now the army is after them. They hide out in the home of local stoner Chris (Ryan) who is so baked that he isn’t aware that anything is wrong. However they do discover that the invading force is moving in their supplies and personnel over a single bridge. And Ellie knows that bridge has got to go – and the only people who have a shot at getting it done are her and her friends. But can a bunch of party-hearty teens stand up to a highly trained military force?

This is based loosely on the first of John Marsden’s young adult series Tomorrow. A big hit over in Oz and to a lesser extent over here, it seemed like a natural fit for the Aussie film market and indeed it was. However, it never really connected with the global market and plans to film the second book in the series have stalled, at least for the time being.

Director Beattie made his mark initially as a screenwriter for such films as Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Collateral, Derailed and 30 Days of Night (he’s also writing and directing the upcoming I, Frankenstein). This is his first time in the director’s chair and he actually doesn’t do too bad a job. This is an action-heavy film with sequences that include helicopter and fighter jet battles, dune buggy chases and of course gun fights. There isn’t anything that is going to rewrite the action movie manual here but there is certainly nothing that disgraces the filmmakers either.

The young cast has a lot of pressure on their hands and the results are fairly mixed. Partially because their characters aren’t given a lot of development time other than for the very basics, they don’t come off as fully formed personalities in most cases. Methinks that they were hoping to do more of that in the sequels that were planned from the get-go.

Still, the movie moves at a very heady clip and you aren’t really allowed to catch your breath for very long which is crucial for a good action movie. While the plot borrows perhaps too liberally from Red Dawn, this is certainly a different take on that type of film, being a little bit more specific to a single event and less about the arc of the characters over the course of the war although the full series of books is more in that vein. It’s not a bad movie although it got virtually no play over on this side of the Pacific but that is perhaps due to the distributors not quite knowing what to do with an Aussie movie that feels more like a Hollywood film, but when compared to Hollywood action movies might come off as a bit rougher around the edges than what cognoscenti here are used to.

WHY RENT THIS: Well-paced. Some fine action sequences.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Déjà vu plot. Not terribly well-acted.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence as well as more than a few situations involving peril to teens, not to mention some implied drug use and sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the highest grossing Australian film of 2010.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $16.5M on a $26M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Red Dawn

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Brake

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