Bran Nue Dae (PG-13) (83 min.) — Out of left field and Down Under comes Rachel Perkins' musical to surprise viewers, as if a stranger burst into a well-orchestrated song in conversation. A stage hit in Australia and unknown practically everywhere else, Bran Nue Dae is a flawed but frisky enterprise with a talented cast including Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush in one of his silliest roles ever.
Rush plays a patronizing priest at a Catholic boarding school for Aborigines like Willie (Rocky McKenzie), a nice kid running away from the possibility of another spiritually healing beating. He's headed to his hometown 3,000 miles away where he may reunite with his crush Rosie (Jessica Mauboy), who was stolen away by a rockabilly singer (Dan Sultan).
The priest follows in his Mercedes, while Willie is aided by dimwitted hippies and a crusty drunk named Uncle Tadpole (Ernie Dingo). Anyone is capable of breaking into song at any time, so the overly familiar plot outline is a bit easier to handle. Like all road trips, Bran Nue Dae is episodic, but at 83 minutes the loosey-goosey structure doesn't have time to get frustrating.
The songs by Cezary Skubiszewski are a bouncy blend of gospel, country and bubblegum pop with juicy covers of Stand By Your Man and the theme from Zorba the Greek, delivered with varying degrees of precision, making the whole fairy tale a tad more believable. Bran Nue Dae is a strange change from the usual multiplex fare, and that's nearly enough to make it wonderful. (AMC Veterans 24, Tampa) B
Steve Persall, Times film critic