Directed by: Dagen Merrill
Starring: Luke Arnold, Alexa Vega, Timothy Hutton, Che Timmins, Andy McPhee
With its poster emblazoned with a “Family Approved” seal, Broken Hill would be more at home on the Hallmark Channel than in the Cineplex. But it’s showing in theaters, nonetheless, and that’s about as much as anyone can say about this latest attack on the heartstrings. There’s nothing really wrong with Broken Hill, but then again, there’s nothing really right with it either. It seems to exist solely so I can forget I ever watched it three months from now.
The story is the usual “follow your dreams, believe in yourself” shtick that gets carted out whenever something uplifting needs to happen. In this case, we get the story of Tommy (Luke Arnold), an Australian teen with a love of classical music who’s trying to get into the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. The only problem is that he appears to not be very talented, something that leads his father (an Australian-accented Timothy Hutton) to try and stifle his dreams in hopes that Tommy will become more grounded and get used to his small-town lifestyle.
But Tommy—at the urging of teenage temptress and poster child of latchkey kids everywhere, Kat (Alexa Vega, Spy Kids)—gets busted for chucking watermelons out of his truck and is forced to take on community service at a prison. He gets the idea of starting—along with Kat—a prison choir as a means of getting into the Conservatorium. However, the inmates are wary of Tommy (though there is one, a man named Bear (Andy McPhee, Wolf Creek), who sticks around in hopes of learning Deep Purple’s “Space Truckin’”).
The movie then goes where many, many movies have gone before, with Tommy learning the true beauty of not just music, but of friendship and loyalty and the true meaning of Christmas. OK, so maybe not that last one, but it still adds up to a lot of recycled sentiment, making the whole production dramatically inert. There’s nary a surprise or shock in all of Broken Hill, meaning by the time the credits roll, everything will be nice and tidy—and worst of all, expected.
This isn’t to say the entire film is a waste. There is some intelligence here, though it usually ends up being undermined by the movie’s inability to trust its audience. One scene, where Tommy envisions music set to the goings-on of exercising inmates in a prison yard, proves that director Dagen Merrill has seen Rouben Mamoulian’s Love Me Tonight (1932)—or at the very least, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro’s Delicatessen (1991). But this scene is quickly shot in the foot with a short fantasy sequence involving the inmates playing violins, making it all too literal.
Creating a movie about the power of music is a perfectly honorable place to start, but there’s no excuse for the lack of spark in Broken Hill. This doesn’t necessarily make Broken Hill a bad movie, just a superfluous one. Rated PG for thematic elements and some language.