Rats and Cats is a low-budget indie mockumentary from Australia.
A tabloid journalist is assigned to do a "where are they now" piece
about a former star in the Aussie TV and film industry named Darren
McWarren. The actor disappeared from the acting scene some years earlier,
in the wake of some lurid controversy about his relationships with the
wife of his producer and his 15-year-old co-star.
Darren's entire fictional back-story is available at a
bogus My Space page.
As the film begins, Darren has settled into a small, isolated town on the
seacoast in far western Victoria, where he is the local BMOC. The town
line is marked by a a billboard that says "Home of Darren McWarren." His
rock band packs in the local club, and all the single girls in town want
to sample his lovin'. He also competes in local boxing competitions
(incompetently), drives a local hooker to her assignations, and pays the
bills by running a string of "lucky claw" vending machines.
The film takes a lot of comic swipes at the Aussie film industry and
its stars. If you noticed that the rock band and the boxing make Darren
quite similar to Russell Crowe, you're probably not the only one to draw
that inference, although Crowe was obviously only one of many who inspired
parts of the Darren character.
Rats and Cats has just about the most laid-back pace of any film I've ever
seen. The two lead actors deliver every line in the deadpan manner of
people who ask and answer questions without caring about the response of
the other person in the conversation, and without passing any judgment on
the actions described. Nobody ever seems to get excited about anything.
Well, maybe Darren gets a little bit excited about death. But only a
little. As an example of the film's dark humor, Darren has a sex scene
toward the end of the film in which he feels guilty because (1) he never
realized that he was with the wrong girl; (2) he didn't notice that she
died in the middle of the act. In fact, he complimented her performance!
(Turns out he was wrong about her death, but she did pass out and had to
be rushed to the hospital.)
The cinematography and direction are quite effective in catching the
mood and look of a forlorn, decaying seacoast town, and the performing is
natural enough to convince one that the story really is a documentary. The script
supports the performers' efforts in that regard, which is not surprising
since the lead actors are also the co-authors, deriving the
character-based humor from natural performing styles in situations which
are almost, but not quite, realistic. The film can be very funny in spots,
especially if you like the sort of humor created by false sincerity, but
the monotony and the complete lack of energy made it a tough watch for me
at its current running time. If it had been my call, I would have cut it
to an hour and run it on TV as a documentary without telling people it was
all fictional, just to see how audiences reacted. I think the humor is
subtle enough that plenty of viewers would have bought it hook, line, and
sinker. If it were judiciously edited and run on HBO in the States, where
nobody knows anything about the Aussie TV industry, I would be willing to
bet that 75% of the audience would think it is a real documentary,
especially with a promo campaign to support that idea. And it's just far
enough off-kilter to attain minor cult status.
At its existing running length, it runs out of gas towards the end, but
achieves partial redemption with a pretty cool ending in which Darren
disappears again ... or does he? ... in the manner of Eddie and the