Hey kids, don’t you just hate it when you go off for a weekend break with your bessie mates - all the buff hunky guys and the moody pouty girls - and you get home to find your country’s been invaded by pesky foreigners? Total bummer. This is the frankly-unlikely scenario of clunkily-titled teen appeal Aussie action flick ‘Tomorrow When the War Began’ apparently based on a beloved series of novels by John Marsden and starring squeaky clean up-and-comers Rachel Hurd-Wood (‘Dorian Grey’, ‘Peter Pan’), Caitlin Stasey (‘Neighbours’) and Lincoln Lewis (‘Home and Away‘). Trust me, I’ve never heard of any of ‘em either but Press releases are handy animals…
Anyway, if you can get your head around what seems like a fairly ludicrous concept, ‘Tomorrow…’, which slunk quietly into UK cinemas earlier this year before slinking off again (despite being the biggest grosser in Australian cinemas in 2010), is a half decent action flick, albeit one aimed at a ‘Twilight’ generation who aren’t much into pouting vampires and who prefer something a little gutsier. Returning from an idyllic weekend in the middle of nowhere in Australia, our eight teen High School dreams find a promisingly post-apocalyptic environment; everyone’s disappeared, phones, TV and even t’internet are down. The truth’s a bit more prosaic and considerably more far-fetched than the end of the world as we know it. It seems that, of all places, Australia has been invaded by, of all countries, China (the script doesn’t make this clear; everyone’s of the view that it doesn’t really matter who’s invaded them but most of the troops we see are distinctly Oriental). The population’s been rounded up and kept in an internment camp and our young heroes set about trying to stop the invading forces progressing further inland armed with nothing much more than their wits and a dog.
Taken at face value there’s much to recommend in this throwaway little movie. Writer/director Stuart Beattie has an eye for light action sequences (plenty of explosions), his script is workmanlike if perfunctory and he teases decent performances from his enthusiastic young cast. The problem is the movie falls apart if you just stop and think about it. There’s no discernible reason why China would invade Australia (unless this is explored in later books in the series and maybe in the next film - two sequels are on the way), we’re not told how the outside world has reacted to this act of war (at the end of the film several weeks have passed and our heroes still seem to be the only resistance movement and there’s been no word from the rest of the world) and the invading force are just that - a force, a mass of black-clad soldiers trundling about in jeeps and tanks shooting people and blowing houses up for no readily-obvious reason.
If you’re in the mood for some fairly brainless and largely-bloodless action fun, ’Tomorrow When the War Began’, a sort of under age ‘Red Dawn’, is an agreeable way of wasting ninety-odd minutes. Although the film misses the brio and chutzpah the big Hollywood bucks bring to high concept stuff like this, it’s good to see a competent explosive action movie hailing from the other side of the world and while the sequel isn’t exactly at the top of my ‘can’t wait to see’ list, it’s refreshing to see a new teen franchise with a bit more guts than the insipid and never-ending ‘Twilight’ stories.
Special features: Commentaries, making of, character profiles, alternative ending, FX featurette, interview with book series author John Marsden.
Tomorrow When the War Began is out now on DVD/Blu-ray