Thursday, June 21, 2007


There are any number of productive, constructive things I could have done this past Tuesday. I could have learned a new trade. Volunteered. Written the first page of that novel I've been constructing in my head, the one that will surely win the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay when the popular, critically acclaimed film comes out, and quite possibly a Tony when it is performed as a Broadway musical.

But instead, I killed time, and maybe a few of the brain cells needed for the more important work ahead, at a screening of Black Sheep, a film wherein genetically mutated sheep put the bite on unfortunate New Zealanders.

The first-time writer/director, Jonathan King, has clearly taken the early, disreputable, unsavory (and frequently hilarious) films of future fantasy wunderkind and Kiwi legend, Peter Jackson, to heart, and soul. (Jackson's Weta Workshop provided Black Sheep's old school makeup and model effects, which are fully in keeping with the blood-and-guts-and-laughs aesthetic of his off-the-wall Bad Taste and Dead Alive.) I suspect his fragile young mind was also warped by viewings of 1972's Night of the Lepus, where Stuart Whitman and Janet Leigh are besieged by giant killer rabbits. The more the hopping bunnies are rigged to look scary, with bloody incisors and the like, the funnier they are. Do not miss its next appearance on TCM, which really tests the channel's definition of "classic."

New Zealand's thriving, and docile, sheep population is even more unlikely to be stirred toward movie mayhem. Shaking things up in the paddocks is genetic engineering by animal sadomasochist Oliver Oldfield (Matt Chamberlain), who wants to create his own brand of sheep. Oliver's younger, therapy-wracked brother Henry (Nathan Meister) simply wants out of the trade after many years away from the family farm. But his visit coincides with a bungled attempt at animal rescue by ecological do-gooders, who succeed only in liberating a bad-tempered fetal beastie from its storage tube. The puppety creature sinks its newly carnivorous teeth into the more obnoxious of the greens, then one of its own normal brethren. This gives rise to a bucolic countryside swiftly filling with man-eating sheep, and man/sheep hybrids that persist in giving long-winded environmental speeches despite the impediments of hoofs and wool.

I laughed, my guilt over what I might be doing subsiding with each new shock comedy bit, usually something involving severed limbs munched on by the newly deranged wool providers, a twist on a familiar horror movie cliche, or the inevitable sheep shagging jokes, which the movie takes a while to get to. There is also the entirely incidental beauty of the setting, shot in ravishing widescreen by Richard Bluck, and a cheerful rubbishing of eco- and psychiatric-speak as Henry and his hippy-dippy "lunatic greenie" girlfriend Experience (Danielle Mason) find love on the run from herds of ravening sheep.

The film runs out of gas sometime before the sheep do, but at 87 minutes, no matter. Horror comedy fans: Ewe will eat up Black Sheep, which IFC First Take and The Weinstein Company release on Friday.

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