There was a time when it was the British film industry that specialized in funny little feel-good comedies about harmless eccentrics who emerged victorious against substantial odds–the Ealing output of the 1950s is the most obvious example, but there were plenty of like pictures from other sources, too. Now the tradition has moved, like many English convicts of earlier centuries, Down Under; in recent years numerous Australian pictures have taken up the formula. A few have been quite delightful, and others heavy-handed and flat. “Danny Deckchair,” the most recent of them, falls pretty squarely in the middle. Good-natured and anxious to please, it’s also as bedraggled, lightweight and ultimately clueless as its eponymous hero, who’s accidentally transported from Sydney to a small rural town in a lawn chair to which he’s attached a bunch of helium-filled balloons. There he finds the peace and friendly acceptance he’s always longed for, as well as genuine romance with a local lass. But eventually his gold-digging girlfriend from back home tracks him down through an orgy of media coverage about his disappearance, spearheaded by an ambitious TV reporter she takes up with in Danny’s absence. Not to worry, though: all turns out as you know it should.
There’s a strong dose of Frank Capra throughout “Danny Deckchair,” but the picture really dives into the triumphant-little-man spirit of that director’s work in a community meeting late in the game, when the hero, who’s become the unlikely campaign manager for a local bigwig running for office, must take his candidate’s place at the podium and, instead of delivering a speech praising the absent fellow, delivers a paean to the common man that earns him a predictable ovation from the assembled citizenry. Some of the time writer-director Jeff Balsmeyer’s Capracorn is digestible enough, but at moments like this it really causes you to gag.
The cast is headed by Rhys Ifans, the scruffy-looking dude from “Notting Hill” and “Human Nature” who actually looks relatively handsome after he gets rid of his unkempt hair and beard but he still can’t do much with the part of dense, clumsy Danny Morgan except stumble through it with a kind of cheerful idiocy. His love interest, a curiously isolated policewoman named Glenda, is nicely played by Miranda Otto, even if the script fails to clarify the character’s background or frequently off-putting attitude. The rest of the cast is encouraged by Balsmeyer to rip into their standardized roles without much subtlety; Justine Clarke is certainly the worst offender as Trudy, Danny’s fame-and-profit-seeking live-in girlfriend in Sydney, but the denizens of the locale where he lands aren’t appreciably less broad, merely less obnoxious, and Danny’s buddies on his construction job are equally heavy-handed. From the technical side, however, the picture is a fairly spiffy job; the rural sequences have a nice sense of place, and though the urban ones aren’t nearly as pleasant to look at, the shots of Danny gliding lazily past Sydney’s skyscrapers once he’s airborne are amusing.
There’s nothing terribly offensive about “Danny Deckchair,” and easily pleased viewers will probably find it an amiable hoot. But neither Balsmeyer nor his cast sustain its air of goofy whimsy with sufficient lightness of touch to keep it afloat. Ultimately, like its protagonist, it loses altitude and crashes. Unlike him, though, it doesn’t manage to get up again.