Kiwi classic remade

Pork Pie

Directed by Matt Murphy

Written by Matt Murphy, based on a script by Geoff Murphy and Ian Mune

Rated M, 105 minutes

4 stars

It would be hard to count the many ways in which this remake of a Kiwi classic from 1980 could have gone wrong. Remaking any film that is beloved in the heart of the nation, as Goodbye Pork Pie is in New Zealand, is hard enough; remaking a film made by your father, who is still very much alive, makes it personally fraught. Doing this as your debut feature seems like madness, but Matt Murphy says he adopted a phrase from All Black coach Steve Hansen: worry is just wasted emotion.

The original film grew out of Geoff Murphy’s time in the now-legendary 1970’s musical theatre troupe Blerta. Murphy was the film guy in Bruno Lawrence’s Electric Revelation and Travelling Apparition (to use its full name). Several of the players, including Lawrence, found their way into the film. More important was the spirit of anarchy that gave it such rude energy.

Murphy started shooting in late 1979, about six months after the original Mad Max premiered in Australia, and it’s easy to imagine there might be some influence. Murphy and Ian Mune’s script follows a stolen yellow Mini from the top of the North Island to the tip of the south, pursued by dopey cops in Holdens. It’s basically 100 minutes of chase, with comedy bubbling out of a clever mix of characters: a 19-year-old delinquent car thief (Kelly Johnson), a lovesick older bloke (Tony Barry), and a high-spirited young woman who enjoys sex but claims she’s a virgin (Claire Oberman).

In the new version, the delinquent is Luke, a Maori, played by James Rolleston (the kid from Boy, now grown up). Tony Barry’s character, who didn’t really have a job, becomes Jon, a failed writer played by the versatile Dean O’Gorman. His girlfriend has gone back to Invercargill after he failed to commit matrimony, so that’s where he’s heading. They pick up Keira (Australian actress Ashleigh Cummings), a vegetarian, after she throws in her job at a drive-in burger joint.

The new movie follows just enough of the old movie to evoke fond memories, and changes just enough to make itself relevant to the times. The result is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Matt Murphy may be on debut but he has been directing commercials since 1995, and in film since helping his father as a teenage lighting assistant on the original. His work here on the car chases and stunt timing is exemplary, especially if you are the German company that owns the Mini. A better advertisement for the car would be hard to imagine. That’s one difference from the original, in which the little yellow car was torn to pieces en route. For some reason, the orange mini in the new film arrives looking more… complete.

If the new film is more professional than its predecessor, that was inevitable, given that the 1981 film was made for sixpence and a couple of sandwiches for the crew. That ragged charm was part of what made it the first home-grown film hit. It was rough as bags, drenched in satire and dirty good humour. The new film offers different charms: the character development is more subtle, especially in the young Maori character, who broods about his past.

I cannot say the new version overshadows the old. The father’s film was assertive and alive; the son’s is respectful of its elders, fully equipped for the job and a full tilt boogie. Nicely done, bru.