Let me preface this review by saying I really, really wanted to like A Heartbeat Away. Badly. After an advance screening on Sunday night, I hosted a Q & A session with the films producer Chris Fitchett, cinematographer Robert Humpreys and stars Tiffany Lamb and Chase Vollenweider, and they were all lovely people. So it pains me to write such a harsh review but stuff it, that's my job and I've got to be honest. There's no denying Australian musical comedy A Heartbeat Away wants to win audiences over with its heart. Instead, it's a cardiovascular catastrophe. The film follows 19-year-old Kevin (Sebastian Gregory), a kid whose only passion is playing guitar and flirting with neighbourhood hottie Mandy (Isabel Lucas). But when his father (William Zappa) is injured in an accident, the directionless teen is forced to take over his dad's marching band. It seems like the rag-tag group of music misfits have no hope of winning the upcoming championship. But with Kevin's new found passion, and help with a new routine from Mandy, the underdogs might come out on top.
Directed by acclaimed theatre director Gale Edwards, you want really badly to like A Heartbeat Away given the team of passionate people behind it and its promise of a `no strings attached' good time. The problem is, well, it's really bad. It sets out to be a modern Australian fairytale, but the plot is so contrived, nonsensical and full of Aussie cliches there's no happily ever after here. It could have got away with being just the usual underdog tale, but the `marching band must win to save the town from evil developers' sub-plot is overkill.
The acting is surprisingly terrible, given the cast is made up of a combination of rising stars and veteran Aussie actors.Former Neighbours star Gregory over-acts just about every scene he's in and Lucas lacks any sort of substance; wafting through the movie with forgettable lines and an if-only-you-could-forget-it dance scene. She's so bland in fact, most of her screen time leaves you wishing you could drag a brush through Hermione-meets-homeless-person hair do.
A Heartbeat Away wants to consider itself a new version of Baz Luhrmann's breakout hit Strictly Ballroom and besides the delightfully kitsch subjects - ballroom dancing and marching bands - that's where the similarities end. Sure, at their core both films are about love, dreams and overcoming your fears, but Heartbeat lacks the wit and style that made Ballroom a cult classic. Any sort of enjoyment you get out of the marching band's version of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit in the conclusion is too little too late in this misdirected and muddled Aussie dud.
A Heartbeat Away opens today.