Somewhere on the dystopian Road to Nowhere — Destination Thunderdome –a drifter stumbles across a giant nugget and must battle the desert, snakes, scorpions and wild dogs, interlopers and his sketchy partner to hang onto his hunk of “Gold.”
That’s the premise of this “Treasure of the Terra Australis,” a down and dirty and entirely-too-minimalist sci-fi spin on what greed does to a man. So little happens that this might have passed unnoticed had Zac Efron not signed on to star and take a suffer-for-your-art paid vacation in the Outback.
Anthony Hayes‘ film’s stark, arid beauty reminds us of why so many primal tales — apocalyptic to horror to “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” — have been set there. There are no distractions and survival is visually reduced to its most elemental — water, shelter from the heat, and transportation to get the hell out of there.
As Efron’s loner notes to the roughneck (director and co-writer Hayes) he hires to drive him across it, “It is what it is.”
That goes for the nugget, which is too huge to move without help, and the movie itself. As the driver must go off to obtain the gear to extract it, Efron’s limping, scarred survivor of whatever reduced civilization to this, must stay alive, protect their “claim” and keep his wits in the baking heat and other tests this too-simple thriller throws at him.
Susie Porter plays an Irish-accented trekker curious about what the Man with No Name is doing here, scavenging a crashed airplane for shelter, lighting fires at night to keep away the “dogs” nobody dares call “dingoes.”
I like the look and minimalism in play here. But at some point, something needs to happen — something more, anyway.
Hayes blows the “discovery” moment and gives his own character lines that hint at a gentility his brute of a driver-bloke might have once had — “I don’t mean to condescend to you or nothing,” but this desert can leave a lad in a very bad spot “indeed.”
Efron, covered in stubble, scars, grime and flies, doesn’t do enough to animate the character, give away his past or consider his interior life. He’s just there, exerting himself despite having little water, and we assume going a tad mad over the few days that are the film’s timeframe.
“Gold” isn’t really bad. It’s just not enough to amount to anything, or anything much.
Rating: R for language and some violent content
Cast: Zac Efron, Anthony Hayes, Susie Porter
Credits: Directed by Anthony Hayes, scripted by Anthony Hayes and Polly Smyth. A Screen Media release.
Running time: 1:37