Emu War (What is it Good For)

The Emu War is an Australian comedy movie and we’ll stop right there. To clarify: this is a comedy that’s (barely) movie length, not a movie that’s claiming to be a comedy. What’s the difference? Australian movies are almost always either scams to extract money from funding bodies or calling cards for the cast and director as they try to kick start a Hollywood career. Australian comedies? You remember those, surely.

After appearing in selected cinemas for one weekend only (it has a proper distributor, so it’ll be online and on blu ray soon enough if you missed it), The Emu War is loosely based on a bunch of comedians making shit up. Sure, the basic concept – the Australian Army vs a bunch of Emus in 1932 – has some grounding in fact. But this film takes that starting point and just throws a bunch of crud on it, to coin a phrase.

After a massacre of Australian forces (including Luke McGregor, in a wordless cameo) due entirely to a vengeance-crazed Major Meredith (Damian Callinan) disregarding orders, he’s given a chance to redeem himself by leading an elite unit deep into enemy territory to assassinate the Emu Queen. Much stupidity ensues.

The most flattering comparison we can make is to early D-Gen material where a loose parody of a well-worn genre – in this case, war movies – is basically an excuse for a lot of shoddy “special effects” and silly jokes. As such, this largely gets the mix right: you won’t laugh at everything here, but you’ll probably laugh at something.

Another subplot involves an attempt to smuggle Australia’s “horniest man” into the Emu base. There he can root the Emu Queen to death (being extremely horny is her one weakness). The mission relies on the improv skills of a stand up comedian who might be able to do the impossible: impersonate an emu. Does this require her to wear a pissy costume? Of course.

There’s a few “historical” cameos thrown in. Ned Kelly is a stand up comedian, Burke & Wills are (extremely gay) conjoined twins. The Prime Minister is a pants-pissing Harold Holt. They’re one-joke appearances that don’t outstay their welcome. At barely over an hour, this (mostly) powers through the gags so the duds don’t get time to stink up the place.

Speaking of which, there’s a fair amount of gross-out comedy here. Many of the many, many deaths are extremely gory. Fortunately, none of the effects are remotely convincing so you’ll have no trouble sleeping afterwards… even if you did just see an entire emu village burnt to the ground with mothers and children inside.

The relentless drive to try anything for a laugh sells a lot of the shonkier material. In one scene an elite unit discovers they’ve been fitted with suicide cyanide teeth for a joke older than the Emu War itself. And yet, the fact they were willing to make such a hack joke is funnier than the joke itself. Even in Australian cinema, committing to the bit still pays off.

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