Not even Sam Neill can save this low-energy thriller

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Bring Him to Me ★★
(MA) 96 minutes

What do actual professional criminals tend to talk about these days, during the inevitable lulls at work? Maybe it’s mostly sport, maybe they swap stories about their kids, or maybe they were all raised on Tarantino movies and feel obliged to one-up each other with obscure pop culture references.

A scene from Bring Him to Me.Credit: Rialto

Your guess is as good as mine, and certainly as good as anything the Australian director Luke Sparke (Operation: Rainfall) has to offer in the generic low-budget thriller Bring Him To Me, shot in Queensland from a script by the British newcomer Tom Evans.

The nominal setting is the US, but local colour is kept to a minimum, presumably for the budget’s sake.

The action focuses on two men in a car at night, with the occasional stop-off at an abandoned factory or patch of waste ground (despite some outward similarities, the recent Australian true crime drama The Stranger was a model of specificity by comparison).

In the same tradition of B-movie abstraction, the main characters are nameless stock types: the Passenger (Jamie Costa) is the fresh-faced kid who’s new to the game, the Driver (Barry Pepper) the cynical old hand.

Sam Neill plays a gangster in Bring Him to Me.Credit: Rialto

In the aftermath of a heist, they’re on their way to keep a fateful appointment with their boss (Rachel Griffiths), if a rival gangster (Sam Neill) doesn’t catch up with them first.

It’s a set-up used a million times in Westerns as well as crime dramas, although these two wear their feelings more openly than most movie tough guys of the past. The Passenger wants to turn the trip into a bonding exercise, revealing himself as a superhero fan and a doting dad.

The Driver is less chatty, but far from a standard hard-boiled pro. Pepper plays him as a wiry, nervy type, vulnerable behind his scruffy beard, sneaking glances at his travelling companion that run the gamut from irritation to bafflement to unwilling empathy.

This performance is the best thing about the film by a long way – and while you could say that Pepper pours too much visible energy into the Driver’s world-weariness, you could equally say that energy is something Bring Him To Me urgently needs from any source.

Despite the Tarantino echoes, there isn’t a lot of flair in the dialogue (lines like “Why are they trying to kill us?” sound like placeholders Evans meant to revise and then forgot).

The cornball rain-on-the-windscreen imagery also doesn’t accomplish much, beyond hinting that Sparke saw a Michael Mann film at some point.

Even the more singular touches seem like gimmicks rather than elements of a cohesive fictional world – like the Driver’s vintage black muscle car, not the most obvious choice for someone seeking to go under the radar.

Jamie Costa and Barry Pepper play The Passenger and The Driver.Credit: Rialto

As for Griffiths’ assumed Boston accent, all I can say is I’d love to hear an assessment from an actual Bostonian.

In what passes for a showcase monologue, her character declares her fondness for birds: “So many different species, each with their own characteristics.” It could stand as a description of what’s missing here.

Bring Him to Me is in cinemas now.

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