Film review: Gary of the Pacific

by Russell Baillie / 03 April, 2017

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Josh Thomson as Gary: a game performance.

The Project star is irresistibly daft in his movie debut.

In the past 10 years, the Downlow Concept (TDC) have become an unstoppable force in local comedy. The collective have gone from dominating the 48Hours film-making contest to delivering Friday night fixture 7 Days as well as the acquired-taste TV series Coverband and Hounds.

They’ve incubated some comedy careers, too. Before he became a 7 Days regular and then resident goofball on Three’s The Project, Josh Thomson worked with the TDC as an editor (and star) of some of their short films.

Now he’s the star of their first long one. In Gary of the Pacific, he plays bumbling idiot Gary Vasisi – a self-deluded chump who could be a distant cousin of The Office’s David Brent – back in his island home after a long absence.

Followers of TDC’s scripted small-screen offerings will find that, despite the palm trees and white sand, Gary is in familiar comedy territory. But that’s a drawback, too. This black-humoured farce is too short on actual story to sustain its thankfully brief 87 minutes.

It is, however, frequently stupidly funny and reminds us that the Downlow squad have high standards in tasteless gags and cringe-inducing moments. In Thomson, they have someone who can carry a movie, even when he’s playing a character with no apparent redeeming qualities who spends rather too much screen time either sans pants or perilously wedged into compression garments.

Young Gary was sent to New Zealand to go to university but, not particularly bright, he opted for a career in Palmerston North real estate, instead. Just as he faces yet another cashflow crisis and ultimatums from Chloe, his Barbie-like American receptionist fiancée, he’s called home by his sensible sister Lani (Taofi Mose-Tuiloma) because their father, the village chief (Dave Fane), is about to die.

However, even after expiring, Fane haunts his heir (shades of the Thomson-starring Downlow short Only Son) while acting as a one-man laugh track.

Chloe arrives from Palmy hoping for an island wedding with the newly anointed chief. That clashes with Lani’s plans to marry her Palagi boyfriend (Matt Whelan in good form).

Gary’s new chiefly duties also involve arranging for his village to shift from their sinking isle, which for a man of his manifest ineptitude, is all a bit much.

The script opts for a generic Pacific island (it was shot in the Cooks), which makes it a little culturally clumsy. And Chloe is a curious cut-out seemingly kidnapped from an American sitcom: Megan Stevenson certainly commits herself to the role of screechy girlfriend but she’s a strangely artificial ingredient.

Still, thanks to a game performance from Thomson, there is an inspired silliness to Gary that keeps it as irresistible as it is utterly daft. ••

IN CINEMAS NOW

This article was first published in the March 25, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener. Follow the Listener on Twitter, Facebook and sign up to the weekly newsletter.

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