Around the World in 80 Ways

January 21, 2020

aroundtheworldThe aggressively zany new Australian film Around the World in 80 Ways begins with the most breathless opening sequence since the insane 10-minute prologue of Raising Arizona. In Around the World, we’re introduced to the narrator, an Aussie tour guide (Philip Quast) who wears a banana headdress, and he provides a whirlwind history of his bizarre family.

Seems the parents have been in decline since dad (Alan Penny) lost the car dealership to their tacky next­ door neighbor; now mom (Diana Davidson) is heading off for a ’round­-the-world vacation, leaving non­-ambulatory dad in a “rest” home. Meanwhile the little brother (Kelly Dingwall) concocts weird noises in his homebuilt sound studio.

The movie rockets along until it splits in two parts. One part follows mom’s trip, to Hawaii, Las Vegas, Rome, and Tokyo. The other part describes a different sort of journey. When dad learns that mom is being accompanied on the trip by the hated next-door neighbor, he insists that his sons arrange for him to follow the gallivanting woman.

The sons, however, decide that this would serve no purpose. So they devise a plan whereby the enfeebled father, who is nearly blind and none too alert, will think he’s on a world tour. In fact, although the boys dress up in Hawaiian garb, play hula music and serve pineapple and mangoes, the traveling party never leaves its back yard. (Airplane rides are taken care of via an elaborate ruse involving the older son’s revamped tour bus.)

So the film cuts back from the real rip to the imagined one. It’s a mad idea for a movie, and it comes from writer-director Stephen MacLean, who wrote Gillian Armstrong’s energetic Starstruck a few years go. MacLean’s got lots of pizazz; he’s like a crazed juggler trying to keep an armload of objects in the air.

Around the World has some funny bits in it, so I suppose MacLean, succeeds some of the time. I enjoyed the fake plane rides, the villain’s migratory hairpiece, and also the mother’s pilgrimages to the two key experiences of Western culture, an Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas and the pope in Rome.

But the film has an unpleasant nasty streak; a lot of the humor, after all, is at the expense of one character’s borderline senility. And the relentless frolicking left me with the feeling that the movie was trying too hard, like a party at which everybody is desperately and loudly declaiming what a great time they’re having. Sorry, but it doesn’t quite scan.

First published in the Herald, June 6, 1988

Does anybody outside Australia remember this? Does anybody inside Australia remember this? I confess I did not. MacLean also directed what sounds like an Aussie gay-history documentary and a biopic of Peter Allen, and died at age 56. Starstruck is a fun movie and has a big following Down Under, as I understand it; seems a shame MacLean didn’t do more.