BROKEN HILL — ★★1/2 — Luke Arnold, Alexa Vega, Timothy Hutton; rated PG (violence, slurs, mild profanity); in general release
By Hollywood standards, a feel-good tale such as "Broken Hill" probably seems hopelessly old-fashioned — if not corny and quaint as well.
And to be honest, the film has silly and cornball moments. Among them are a fantasy sequence at the start that may get a few unintentional chuckles.
Still, for all its flaws and despite the limiting premise, this music-themed drama works better than it should. Screenwriter/director Dagen Merrill (the son of Academy Award winner Kieth Merrill) works wonders with a small budget, and he certainly could have done worse than this film, his second major release.
The gorgeous Australian settings and a good cast of mostly fresh-faced actors certainly help in that regard.
Aussie television actor Luke Arnold stars as Tommy McAlpine, a teen who has big dreams of a classical music career.
He's hoping to get into the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, though his father (Timothy Hutton) is hoping Tommy will continue working with him on the family sheep station or perhaps have a career as a professional Australian football player.
Tommy might not have any choice in the matter. He runs afoul of the law — thanks to a rebellious classmate, Kat (Alexa Vega), who involves Tommy in some vandalism and teen misbehavior.
The two are lucky to avoid jail time, though the incident might ruin Tommy's spotless record. So he agrees to do community service at a local prison, where he teaches music to the inmates.
Even the most inattentive of audiences will be able to figure out where this film goes next and what happens to these characters.
Also, a subplot about Tommy's wheelchair-bound pal (Rhys Wakefield) seems a little exploitative and unnecessary.4 comments on this story
Yet there's some appeal here, a lot of which has to do with the cast. Arnold and Vega (the "Spy Kids" movies) are both natural and give unforced performances.
Hutton registers as Tommy's gruff father, though his less-than-convincing accent sounds like he's been studying too many Paul Hogan tapes.
"Broken Hill" is rated PG and features some violent content (including athletically based violence, acts of vandalism and vehicular mayhem), derogatory language and slurs, and scattered mild profanity. Running time: 98 minutes.