Mt Zion (M) 3.5 stars
Stan Walker, Temueura Morrison
DIRECTOR TE AREPA KAHI
REVIEW MARK NAGLAZAS
You’ll like this if you liked Once Were Warriors, Whale Rider, Boy, Two Fists One Heart, The Sapphires.
We cringe every time a pop star appears in a movie because we think they're arrogant for assuming they can act - or they're being exploited by filmmakers for their name.
But there's a long history of singers giving great performances in movies, from Frank Sinatra in From Here to Eternity and Dean Martin in Rio Bravo, to Courtney Love in The People vs. Larry Flynt and Mariah Carey in Precious. (Of course, there's Madonna but we'll pass over her in silence.)
Now Australian Idol winner Stan Walker follows fellow Idol alumni Jessica Mauboy on to the big screen in Mt Zion, a New Zealand- set coming-of-age comedy-drama in which the Melbourne-born 22-year-old of Maori descent plays the son of a potato picker with dreams of musical stardom.
Walker is unlikely to make Daniel Day-Lewis lose sleep but he has the same kind of freshness, vitality and charisma that Mauboy brought to The Sapphires.
Of course, Walker works well in Mt Zion because, like Mauboy in The Sapphires, he's playing a role not far from himself - a young man with a soaring voice who struggles to be heard amid the deprivation of his upbringing.
Set in a farming region south of Auckland known as Bombay Hills in 1979, the film follows the exploits of three youngsters, among them Walker's Turei (Darcy Ray Flavell-Hudson and David Wikaira-Paul play the others).
Turei is desperate to be a support act for a coming Bob Marley concert.
But Turei's dream of being on the same stage as the reggae king puts him into conflict with his potato-picker father (the formidable Temuera Morrison of Once Were Warriors fame), a grey-bearded tough nut who believes his son's duty is to serve his family and his Maori community and forget about music. He wants him to pick spuds, not pluck guitar strings.
It's a story as old as cinema itself (it is the same plot used in the first talking picture, The Jazz Singer). But it is sturdy and serviceable, with the musical storyline gelling with, rather than overwhelming, the serious-minded examination of the meaning of family and community to the Maori people.
Director Te Arapa Kahi uses the familiar father-son conflict as a way of taking us deep inside the rural Maori community, which is something we've rarely seen on the screen.
In this sense it is a sweet companion piece to The Sapphires, which is set in country Victoria not much later than Mt Zion.
What Mt Zion lacks in narrative and dramatic polish it certainly makes up for in the look, with the sunset shots of the boys bathing in the water tank after a hard day picking potatoes as pretty as you'll see in a bigger budget movie.
And the film leaps to life each time Walker takes to the stage and sings, belting out a series of catchy reggae-infected tunes that showcase an unbelievably rich and soulful voice.