The Nugget (2002) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for language
Running Time: 97 min.
Cast: Eric Bana, Stephen Curry, Dave O'Neil, Belinda Emmett, Peter Moon, Vince Colosimo, Max Cullen, Karen Pang, Sallyanne Ryan, Alan Brough
Director: Bill Bennett
Screenplay: Bill Bennett
Three best friends living in rural Australia decide to finally put an end to their financial woes by taking up the potentially lucrative hobby of metal detecting. Lo and behold, thanks to a fluke, they find what turns out to be the world's largest gold nugget hiding in plain sight. Before they haul it back home, they are met by the suspicious junkyard owner, Ratner (Peter Moon), who immediately detects what the blokes have found, aiming to steal it for himself when they aren't looking. While the boys quit their jobs and start spending the millions that are sure to be theirs, Ratner snatches the prize and starts trying to sell it for himself. With debts piling up, the guys have to figure out a way to get it back before it's gone for good.
The Nugget is a mild-mannered Australian film that fits right in with the type of comedies they generally make, full of likeably daft little guys that discover they like the simple lives they lead, almost losing it all when something bigger comes along. Perhaps the film is most notable for the starring appearance of Eric Bana, a rising star at the time who filmed this in between two high-profile films in Black Hawk Down and Hulk. While Bana is good in his role, it doesn't really require much of an acting stretch on his part, so I suspect he did the film just for a bit of fun to get away from the darker films he had been doing.
While the cast is certainly pleasant, as is the overall tone, The Nugget is never able to rise above mediocrity to become as funny or inspiring as writer-director Bill Bennett (Two If by Sea, Kiss or Kill) had probably been aiming. It's a slight but admirable morality tale about never letting riches get in the way of lifelong friendships, but as a story, the plot elements have been done better in several notable films, including The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and A Simple Plan. Reportedly, Bennett was inspired by the John Steinbeck novella, "The Pearl", although without the serious themes and dramatic turns of events -- or really anything else that matters. As it stands, it's cute and watchable, but completely disposable.
©2006 Vince Leo