ROUGH STUFF is a treasure hunt movie that infuses its adventure with a heavy amount of grunt and a revved up dose of braun. With its contemporary setting the film puts its characters inside a convoy of heavy duty four-wheel-drive vehicles and has them tackling some of the roughest terrain in the country. It tells the story of Buzz and Abe, two Rovers roaming the land far from the traps of city life, who agree to escort a group of foreign environmental activists through the treacherous Mamuya Valley. The leader of the activists has a map which, he claims, leads to the legendary “Strays Gold” - a lost treasure believed to be myth. The activists seek passage to the far side of a big mining operation, which is scheduled to begin a blasting operation within days, and with both party's having different vested interests in the trip the scene is set for an adventure full of conflict and mayhem.
The whole 'treasure hunt' genre is an under-explored brand of filmmaking in Australia, and very few titles have temped it with the sort of frivolity and heightened adventure that we've come to expect from Hollywood. And so when a movie like ROUGH STUFF gives it a red hot go there is an immediate sense of excitement that comes with it.
The movie opens with a rugged 4X4 race sequence as two all-terrain vehicles tear through the bush at breakneck speeds, bouncing over boulders and scaling ridiculous ravines. It is a thrilling set-up that reassures the viewer that ROUGH STUFF is not some cheap-ass local DIY movie, but rather a well crafted spectacle with a skilled creative team behind the scenes. The camera flirts with the action and we are treated to a showcase of impressive off-road driving that has vehicles doing what most average drivers would consider to be impossible. Of course the film's major financiers were 4X4 companies, and so the attention to skilful driving also serves as a glowing endorsement for their brands, and the industry they promote. At times the branding is blatant and, perhaps, overdone... but it is thrilling nevertheless and offers an alternative spectacle to the saturation of street-racing we're inundated with from Hollywood.
Unfortunately the film suffers from a contrived and bloated script, which lacks substance and is impeded by a series of hidden agendas and twisted subplots. Had the story kept its focus on the basic premise of the treasure hunt then we might have been contending with one of the best Australian movies of the year. At 120-minutes the running time is also a major hindrance. 2-hours is just too long for this type of movie and it would have benefited from a tighter cut. In fact I would go so far as to suggest that trimming at least 40-minutes would have served it well. Sadly long running times is a common thing amongst independent Australian films and it's a gripe that I find myself repeating time and again. Filmmakers are (understandably) precious about their films and being ruthless in the edit is heartbreaking. When a filmmaker has nurtured their vision and come so far, it's difficult for them to seperate their creative mind from their consumer's mind. And so an unnecessarily long running time is a concession I will – again – afford.
Negative bullshit aside, ROUGH STUFF is a little belter, and a movie that deserves to be seen. Director Jonathan Adams has plunged head first into an untapped genre and is an audacious filmmaker for doing so. His film is a visual feast for the eyes that infuses testosterone-driven action, balls-to-the-wall mayhem and a glorious cinematography. From sweeping arial shots to extreme muddy close ups, the camera interacts with the action and delivers the audience a thrilling escapade. The positives of the movie outweigh the negatives, and it is important for viewers to understand (and appreciate) the restrictions, which independent filmmakers face. Try making a movie... it's bloody hard. Try making one that looks this good... it's tough. And try making one that would make the most avid off-road drivers hold their breath.... bet ya can't!