A Little Bit of Soul (1998)
Directed by Peter Duncan
Cast: David Wenham, Frances O'Connor, Geoffrey Rush, Heather Mitchell.
1998 84 minutes
Rated: [NR] (equivalent of an R for mild profanity, sexual situations, and blood).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 21, 1999.
"A Little Bit of Soul," an Australian film, directed by Peter Duncan (1997's "Children of the Revolution"), is about as crazy as a mental patient and just about as painful as poking your eyeballs out with a sharp scalpel. What starts off as a subdued comedy takes an unforeseen downward turn south (in more ways than one; think about it) and becomes a preposterous, asinine horror movie (also, in more ways than one) that is about as subtle as a freight train crashing into your house.
As the film opens, a down-on-his-luck scientist, Dr. Richard Shorkinghorn (David Wenham), who believes he has discovered the key to stopping the aging process based on experiments with chickens, is invited for the weekend to the home of Grace Michael (Heather Mitchell), of the Michael Foundation, for potential funding. Once Richard arrives, he is discouraged to find that his ex-girlfriend and ex-research assistant, Kate (Frances O'Connor), has also been invited for the weekend, and whoever convinces Grace the most successfully will be the one who receives the money. Also present at Grace's country house is her evidently twisted husband, Godfrey Usher (Geoffrey Rush). The weekend grows more and more curious after one of their other guests is found dead in the bathroom, of an apparently very bloody suicide. Predict all you want to what's going on with Grace and Godfrey, but you are never going to figure it out.
The twist that comes midway through "A Little Bit of Soul" is so inanely far-fetched and loony that the only excuse for the movie's ludicrous nature is that director Peter Duncan was taken over by an escapee from an insane asylum. Either that, or...you get the picture. One of the most confusing things about the film is the question of what genre the movie belongs in. As the press release makes note, is it supposed to be a "Howard Hawksian 30's comedy," a bloody horror movie, or something in between? The problem is, the movie has all of two laughs with the rest just posing as an embarrassment for the good actors, and the movie is more imbecilic than scary. One thing's for sure: after the first 45 minutes, the film unplants itself so loosely from reality that it definitely transforms itself into a sort of dark fantasy. Make that a dark fantasy without an ounce of sense or vacant thought.
Scene after scene, the four actors run around trying to add energy or an air of "knowing" ridicule to compensate for their foolish decision to star in the film to begin with. Of the thespians, Geoffrey Rush turned in a star-making, Oscar-nominated performance in 1996's "Shine" before wasting his time since in numerous inferior roles that do not do justice to his talent. Frances O'Connor (1997's "Kiss or Kill") is the standout here, if there is one, but only because she is such a fresh face that I felt bad watching her and everyone else destroy their careers just a little bit more with this turkey. David Wenham, the main actor in the piece, is a dull presence and seriously miscast, considering that both female characters are supposed to lust after him even though he could put an insomniac to sleep and has no distinctive physical features. And Heather Mitchell, who I don't believe I've seen before, may be a fine actress, but you can't tell it with this role. The big mystery regarding the cast is how they would even consider making such a lame-brained movie in the first place, especially when none of them have a challenging character to work with. The only challenge they apparently had with this film is trying not to look like a bunch of morons.
So what exactly was director Duncan's purpose for making "A Little Bit of Soul?" Is there any sort of point to be made about anything, or an actual purpose for the wacky "twist" that he has in store for the (unlucky) viewers who may stumble into a theater playing this? Even the superb music by Ted Hawkins and Louis Armstrong is poorly-used, as it appears in practically every scene to the point of annoyance, and is clearly trying to cover up the story flaws. "A Little Bit of Soul" has sat on the shelf for close to three years awaiting release in the U.S., and after viewing the film, I now know why. There is, frankly, no good reason that this ill-conceived movie ever needed to be made.
©1999 by Dustin Putman