GO! review : Australia’s version of The Karate Kid

It seems there are two genres Australian films specialise in – uplifting family films and dark and depressing dramas. We are a country of extremes and subtlety is optional, especially in this new offering set in the world of Go Kart racing. For all the parents out there, don’t worry, “GO!” is definitely on the uplifting family film side.

From the writer and studio behind “Paper Planes” and the acclaimed director of the UK version of “Top Gear”, the film follows 15-year-old Jack (William Lodder), a newcomer to town with a natural talent for racing. His one setback – he needs to learn to control his recklessness. To do that, he’ll need the help of aspiring engineer, Mandy (Anastasia Bampos), wise-cracking best mate Colin (Darius Amarfio-Jefferson) and mysterious mentor, Patrick (Richard Roxburgh). Together, the team will endeavour to overcome all odds and defeat ruthless racer Dean (Cooper Van Grootel) to win the National Go Kart Championship.

If this sounds like someone followed the ‘underdog in the sporting world’ screenplay tick boxes, you would be right. This film is essentially “The Karate Kid” in rural Western Australia with wheels instead of kicks. We have the supportive single mother (Frances O’Connor), random chores that turn out to not be random at all, a reluctant mentor that doesn’t say much, even the antagonist looks eerily like his inspiration. In contrast, Mandy, the female romantic interest, has been modernised to have her own hopes and dreams and won’t tolerate being the doormat of the hero’s ambitions – always a welcome addition.

The scenery, music and somewhat inexplicable 70s fashion and vibe create a welcome setting. The performances from the more experienced adults somewhat outshine the younger generation, with Richard Roxburgh given the most to work with. Frances O’Connor is always charming but is given very little to do besides smile supportively, even in her own romantic sub-plot, indicative that maybe the screenplay could have used some time to breath. All the supporting characters have their own arcs, but they are sketches instead of drawings, and the very talented Dan Wylie in particular is criminally underutilised.

There are moments of inspired originality here, including a nice take on what a mentor’s uplifting speech would be if the mentor was an awkward and gruff Aussie of few words. And the device to portray Jack’s need to overcome the ghost of his father before he can become his own racer is particularly touching. More unique elements like this would have added greatly to the memorability of the film.

This is a fun and harmless offering and a great summer flick for kids. Adults will be looking for more but it’s no bad thing that there are joyful and uplifting films made with younger people in mind.

Briefs : Jar Jar returns, Snake Eyes, Venus & Serena cast, Beta Ray Bill rumors

Oscar nominations are in!