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C*A*U*G*H*T review: help, the comedy’s AWOL

Actor Kick Gurry’s writing/directing debut feels like a relic of times gone by ... and not in a good way.

Many years from now, there may come a time when aliens dredge through the rubble of our self-owned empire and encounter a somehow intact repository/suppository of the long-dead Earth’s once vibrant screen culture.

If these future social scientists come to familiarise themselves with the remarkable work of Oscar-winners Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, they may, shortly thereafter, find themselves befuddled when they stumble upon the rancid remnants of Stan show C*A*U*G*H*T and ask themselves – much as I did, empathically out loud in the here and now – what in the living hell they were doing slumming it in this stupendously dire misfire that also marks the ignominious acting debut of scandal-prone Today co-host Karl Stefanovic?

You what now?

It’s a very good question for which there is no clear answer. If you look only at the top line of C*A*U*G*H*T, you might be forgiven for thinking that an irreverent dark comedy from Edge of Tomorrow actor-turned-writer-director Kick Gurry about larrikin Aussie soldiers trapped behind enemy lines when a black ops mission goes horribly wrong could be a larf. The presence of Sarandon and Penn alongside esteemed local actors, including Bryan Brown, Silvia Colloca and Fayssal Bazzi, might also seem like a no-brainer.

Read: C*A*U*G*H*T – need to know

It’s certainly true that there’s very little evidence of brain power behind this supposed satire of Australian military adventurism that consistently hits rock bottom, including old-fashioned homo-panic when the soldiers are hogtied in a shallow grave with their shrieking faces buried in each other’s arses and one particularly oversized dick. It’s as heinous as it sounds.

Hacksaw Ridge actor Ben O’Toole plays Rowdy Gaines – no connection to the American swimmer – a man who desperately wants an honourable discharge (presumably from appearing in this show) so he can care for his sick daughter. But he’s convinced by Black Snow star Erik Thomson’s Minister of Defence to embark on one final high-stakes mission to Australia’s fictional island neighbour of Behati-Prinsloo (more on this later).

He assembles his (over-exposed butt) crack team, with Alexander England, so good in Down Under and Black Snow, playing gormless computer expert Phil Choi, Lincoln Younes as sculpted brawn-bringer Albhanis Mouawad and Gurry himself as Dylan Fox, a deep cover strategist.

No sooner are they dropped unofficially on the island than they are captured – alongside a team of Americans including Lost star Matthew Fox – by freedom fighters Shami (Mel Jarnson, Mortal Kombat) and Mamolo (Dorian Nkono, The Twelve) and taken to their leader, played by Bazzi, where they’re forced to record a hostage video exposing their presence on the island with less conviction than the recent shemozzle from Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis.

Where are we?

Again, an excellent question. Wherever you stand on the controversial blackface of Ben Stiller ‘comedy’ Tropic Thunder, C*A*U*G*H*T is probably just as questionable, if not more so. Gurry deploys a bunch of actors from wildly different backgrounds to don vaguely Arabic make-up and accents, including Italian-Australian Little Tornados actor, opera singer and SBS cooking show host Collocca as the Island nation’s Princess Depinder. EEP!

It’s like being thrust back into the most dubious corners of ‘80s action flicks but without the ‘it was a different time’ excuse. Perhaps if the show had any discernible commentary on the ‘is this a bit racist?’ dialogue, there may have been a slim get-out clause. But as it is, after watching the three eps of six available to review, C*A*U*G*H*T remains inexplicably awful.

None of it hangs together. Halfway through the show, I have no real idea why Stefanovic is portraying a presumably exaggerated egotistical, misogynistic and foul-mouthed version of himself on the Today show, nor why Penn appears as a presumably exaggerated egotistical, misogynistic and foul-mouthed version of himself on a cooking segment on said show that also deploys a dubious Macarena dance sequence. Sarandon appears to have conducted her role as Thomson’s American counterpart from a safe distance via Zoom.

Read: What to stream in September 2023: new shows and films in Australia

Watching this deeply un-hot mess drop amidst a torrent of lumpenly crass ‘jokes’ is a bewildering and disheartening experience. When one freedom fighter suggests that killing the Australians could be ‘a public relations disaster for us. Everybody loves Australians,’ you wind up kinda siding with Shami when she asks, perplexed: ‘Why?’

C*A*U*G*H*T works to death the rock-bottom ocker stereotypes that inexplicably made Crocodile Dundee one of the biggest hits we have ever exported. It looks terribly cheap, the lighting in particular is all over the place, and there are whole subplots going nowhere. Most of the women involved are horribly hard done by, including Slam star Rebecca Breeds as an unpopular podcaster even Gurry seems to have forgotten is there.

Brown in green and gold trackies as the buffoonish Prime Minister, a bastard child of former office-holders Howard and Morrison – grinning ‘How good was Thorpey?’ – should be funny, but like everything else in this show, it’s just dumb.

With neither the wit to lampoon on a target nor even the saucily droll giggles of the Carry On films, C*A*U*G*H*T drops the ball(sack) over and over. Though I will give Gurry minor credit for one joke, when a prison guard asks, ‘When have you ever seen a slow-motion torture video,’ and one of the lads responds, in perfect comic timing that’s largely AWOL here, ‘Baz Luhrmann’s Australia‘.

C*A*U*G*H*T premieres on Stan on 28 September.