SCARFIES (CRIME 101)(director/writer: Robert Sarkies; screenwriter: Duncan Sarkies; cinematographer: Stephen Downes; editor: Annie Collins; music: The Clean; cast: Willa O’Neill (Emma), Neill Rea (Scott), Ashleigh Seagar (Nicola), Taika Cohen (Alex), Charlie Bleakley (Graham), Jon Brazier (Intruder); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Lisa Chatfield; Essential Films; 1999-New Zealand)
“Mildly amusing in spots.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
“Scarfies” or “Crime 101” as it is titled in the States, is the debut feature for director Robert Sarkies. He also co-wrote it with brother Duncan. This well-produced New Zealand film school-like venture is set in Dunedin and starts as a light comedy sitcom with a lot of padded scenes then suddenly changes gears and becomes nasty in spots and turns into a dark thriller and ends amorally with a black comedy scenario. It has been promoted by Sundance and hit a spot with the kiwi public to become a surprise box office smash. I found it mildly amusing in spots and at times too obnoxious to get fully into it. Though it had a lot of energy and kept things moving along with plot twists, it seemed to be heading for a bad landing by relying too much on surprises and not enough on drawing its strength from character development.
The plot centers around five college students at Otago University (billed as the world’s southernmost college), the steady Scott, the practical-minded Emma, the shifty Alex, the bitchy Nicola, and the nerdy Graham, all who luck out and find the perfect empty house where they can squat for free, and even though it’s a shithole there’s electricity and no rent or landlord. There’s one other bonus the students discover when they open a locked basement room, that it’s filled with a cache of enough full-grown marijuana plants to keep the entire university high. The naive students do a majority vote thing and decide to keep enough to smoke and sell the rest, which they clumsily do to a dealer for $50,000.
The kids act like kids and blow the money on electrical equipment and an assortment of useless novelty items and paint their faces in the university and town team colors of blue-and-gold as they excitedly get in their new car to attend the big rugby game in town. But they are surprised to find the adult farmer of the crop (Brazier) has returned and is pissed that his crop was sold for so little and all the money is gone. The intruder threatens them and fearing for their lives, they get the upper hand by locking him in the basement and keeping him tied up until they decide what to do with him.
When the film deals with the relations that develop among them, it bogs down and seems to be too familiar as sitcom stuff. Emma is studying law but doesn’t want to be a lawyer, while the supposedly reliable Scott bravely says he wants to run a big corporation but is shown to be not aggressive and lacking business skills. These two have a cautious relationship, as eventually the film focuses on Emma and how she thinks about jumping into a relationship and how her moral code of conduct is challenged by keeping the intruder locked up and even resorting to torturing him when he becomes dangerous. Alex and Nicola are too obnoxious to really care about, as they start humping the first night together and her moans echo throughout the house keeping the others awake. As can be predicted, after the easy conquest Alex seeks new conquests and dumps her. Graham is the odd man out and is considered by the group as a flake. When he sees Nicola is available, he bones up on his come-on by reading “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.
Incidentally, the students are called Scarfies who attend the university at Dunedin because they wear the blue-and-gold scarves that were once the traditional part of their uniform. They now wear them around town and to sporting events and to brace themselves from the raw winter climate the city is known for.
REVIEWED ON 1/19/2004 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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