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MOVIE REVIEWS : Lively 'Slate' Is in Moral Outback

November 25, 1987|KEVIN THOMAS

"Slate, Wyn & Me" (at selected theaters) is a lively but uninvolving Australian variation on the "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" theme. It looks good and plays smartly, but it's virtually devoid of shading and substance.

Apparently, writer-director Don McLennan assumed that it was enough to turn out well-crafted, straightforward entertainment, but he failed to take into account that he's taking us down a well-worn road. "Slate, Wyn & Me" relies totally on the considerable charisma of its great-looking and talented stars, gorgeous Sigrid Thornton and her handsome, husky co-stars Martin Sacks and Simon Burke.

It's somewhere in the '60s, and the Jackson brothers, Wyn (Burke) and Slate (Sacks), who have returned from Vietnam, are too restless--and too full of themselves--to settle down in their small country village. When they're turned down for a loan from the local bank, they promptly knock it over one night. They are caught in the act by a policeman (Reg Gorman), who is shot by the panicky Wyn. Blanche (Thornton), a student teacher, just happens to have accepted a ride from the cop on her way home from a dance, and the brothers take her hostage.

In time, Blanche becomes attracted to her captors, who are, of course, attracted to her, creating predictable problems. There's some humor and adventure along the way, but you're not surprised when the film's tone darkens.

In his direct, blunt manner, McLennan admirably avoids all special pleading in behalf of his people but doesn't seem to realize that he's come up with no reasons for us to care about them. Clearly we're meant to like these sexy mediocrities, but what are we to think of Wyn when he dismisses the shooting, for example, of the cop as "an accident?" The film's stars have plenty of personality, but you soon develop that lethal awareness that you like them rather than the people they're playing.

Wyn, who genuinely falls in love with Blanche, is the most fully drawn of the trio. Slate's the natural leader, but we don't begin to know enough about Blanche. "Slate, Wyn & Me" is a film that's far too impersonal for its own good. What real point is there to this story of three young people with more looks than brains?

Certainly, "Slate, Wyn & Me" (rated R for violence, strong language, some sex) seems too light to be a commentary on the Vietnam generation, but in the shooting of the nice-guy cop it raises moral questions it is not prepared to deal with. This, among other qualities, keeps it from becoming another appealing macho Aussie fantasy like "Crocodile Dundee.'

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