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Family Trials

[whitespace] The Castle
One Thumb, Way Up: Michael Caton (left) and Tiriel Mora over-react in 'The Castle.'

Australian justice isn't that funny, no matter how hard 'The Castle' tries

By Richard von Busack

IT ISN'T A film of Kafka's novel Der Schloss, but I bet that watching The Castle with people who laugh at every repeated corny gag would be the archetypal alienating Kafkaesque experience. This Australian import demonstrates a variation on Matt Groening's Paradox of French Sex Comedies: Australia is funny, the legal system is funny and comedies are funny--and yet, this Australian comedy about the legal system isn't funny. The slender plot is as simple as a children's book. The Kerrigans, a family of lovable Melbourne types, live in unruffled bliss in a suburban house at 3 Highview Crescent, Koolaroo, one cyclone fence away from an airport landing strip. ("It will be very convenient if we ever have to fly anywhere.")

One day, they're served with an eviction notice; the airport wants to bulldoze the family's house. Dad Darryl (Michael Caton), a tow-truck driver, decides to fight the eviction with the help of his chum, a bottom-of-the-barrel lawyer, Dennis (Tiriel Mora). Naturally, they lose, but they take the case up all the way to the Supreme Court. Being threatened with eviction by the government helps the Kerrigans get an outsider's perspective ("Now I understand how the Abbos [Aborigines] feel!"). At long intervals, The Castle offers some chuckles: Caton's Peter Sellers'­like obliviousness, which he leans on hard, is good for a few laughs. So is the son's narration ("There was only one show that's better than America's Funniest Home Videos, and that's The Best of America's Funniest Home Videos.") What I carried out of this limp movie, a smash hit in its native land, was the information that, for some arcane historical reason, the Australian Supreme Court conducts its business dressed in Santa Claus suits. Some people watch sit-coms in a supposedly ironic frame of mind, but actually in a quivering longing for a life of patriarchal order; anyone who could sit through a few hours of The Brady Bunch is welcome to The Castle, koala-cute and koala-smart.

The Castle (R; 86 min.), directed by Rob Sitch, written by Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy and Sitch, photographed by Miriana Marusic and starring Michael Caton and Anne Tenney opens Friday in Los Gatos at the Los Gatos Cinema and in Palo Alto at the Aquarius.

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From the May 13-19, 1999 issue of Metro.

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