Director: Simon Wincer.
Cast: Stephen Curry, Brendan Gleeson, Daniel MacPherson, Tom Burlinson, Shaun Micallef, Colleen Hewett, Martin Sacks.
ON paper, The Cup seems like a sure bet.
Wincer has past form with a Melbourne Cup movie - his 1983 film Phar Lap is an Australian classic and also starred Burlinson - and the emotional story at the heart of this horseracing drama seems prime for the big screen treatment.
But thanks to an absolutely atrocious script and some truly dire performances, The Cup barely gets out of the starting gate. Only the the real life tragedy and the spectacle of The Race That Stops The Nation drag this film across the finish line.
The Cup is the tale of Damien Oliver (Curry), who rode Media Puzzle to glory in the memorable 2002 Melbourne Cup just one week after the tragic death of his brother Jason (MacPherson) in a training accident.
Sadly the first hour of the film, which leads up to Jason's horrific death, is largely unengaging. It's obviously intending to show the close bond shared by Damien and Jason - something achieved in the first 10 minutes - but it goes well beyond that and deep into tedium. They go to a footy game. Characters watch TV. There are endless montages of horse training with little context.
The Cup's first hour commits that most grievous of movie crimes - it's boring.
Things pick up once the accident takes place, but the film doesn't maintain it's momentum thanks to an agonising build up to the big race, which is the only other highlight. Equally frustrating is a poorly used subplot about the Bali bombings and an over-reliance on media soundbytes to tell us what's going on... when we already know what's going on.
While the pacing is slower than a Shetland pony stopping for a rest, it's the script that is the real problem. The dialogue sounds like it was written by someone who has heard all about conversations but never taken part in one. And when the script has a point to be made, it makes it again and again and again to the point of frustration. Yes, we get that Damien Oliver's father also died in a racing accident - it's an important part of the story - but the film feels it needs to remind us of this fact about 10 times.
This dodgy script and its tin-ear dialogue don't help the cast. Gleeson, playing Irish trainer Dermot Weld, is the only one to rise above it and give a decent performance - further evidence of him being one of the most under-rated actors going around.
Sacks and Hewett are also admirable given they have little to work with, but Curry struggles, mostly because he cops the most lines and is further hindered by a screenplay that doesn't develop his character at all. The Cup gives us little idea about who Oliver is as a person or what drives him.
Worse though is MacPherson, whose terrifyingly bad performance threatens to drag the whole film down with it. And it pains me to say this about one of my comedic heroes, but Micallef (as trainer Lee Freedman) is almost as terrible. Even the late great Bill Hunter, in his last role, struggles with the dialogue as Bart Cummings.
The only thing saving this from a one-star review is that there is a couple of big-hearted flashes of emotion amid the mawkish melodrama and sub-soapie script. Also there will probably be an appreciative audience for this film - one that doesn't care about things like story, dialogue and acting but just likes watching the horsies run around.
But personally, I wouldn't back this donkey.