REVIEW: Just over two decades ago, Duncan and Robert Sarkies made a little movie about five Dunedin flatmates who discover a large crop of marijuana growing in their basement.
Despite, or perhaps because of, some obvious thematic similarities to Danny Boyle’s 1994 black comedy Shallow Grave, Scarfies was a hit, cleverly melding elements of the southern student experience to a plot filled with rising tension and real menace. It was the movie that introduced the world to Taika Waititi (albeit as an actor called Taika Cohen) and backed the action to a compilation of the “Dunedin Sound”’s greatest hits.
Fast-forward to 2020 and we have what boils down to re-hashed and relocated version of Scarfies in the form of Toke.
Set the sleepy Coromandel community of Tokerangi, John Banas (best known for his recent dramatisations of real-life events like the Ballantyne’s fire and the 1983 Melbourne Cup) and newcomer Kewana Duncan’s tale is the story of three locals who accidentally create a super strain of marijuana.
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Like Scarfies’ Emma, Georgie (Ahikaroa’s Tatum Warren-Ngata) is our initial window into this world. The Kiwifruit orchard stock manager is supposed to be jetting off for a European adventure, but a detour for one last score sees her leave her travel documents behind and miss her flight.
Dragging her case back home, Georgie discovers that, having burnt her bridges at her leaving do, there’s only one opening left at her old employment – on the grading table. It’s there that she encounters Taki (Born to Dance’s Tia Maipi), who aware of Georgie’s horticultural knowledge, shows her a little side hustle he’s been working on in one of the supplies sheds.
Having been away in Wellington for the past month, he’d half expected his little crop to be dead, but instead it is thriving. Turns out, fellow worker Henare (Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s Troy Kingi) uncovered the stash and has been cultivating them with his own special formula. Rather than blow the whistle or destroy them, the trio agree to keep their little secret growing – for the next three weeks at least.
But, as it matures, Henare thinks there’s something wrong with the batch, black spots blight every leaf. A quick test though proves not only is it suitable, but it’s a grunty. “It’s the mānuka honey of weed,” Taki declares.
Although Henare is wary of sharing the wares, having previously gained a conviction for growing, Taki and Georgie believe they may have hit the jackpot, especially in a place where grass “is sometimes just grass”. However, as the buzz about their product envelops the entire coast, it also attracts some less than welcome attention.
Director Charlie Haskell (Young Hercules, Xena, Power Rangers) does a great job of establishing a sense of space and place and he’s ably supported by two terrific performances from Warren-Ngata and particularly Kingi. Unfortunately, for all their hard work and the tele-movie’s amiable vibe, it can’t overcome some second-rate scripting, clichéd support characters and terribly telegraphed action.
Toke never really quite settles on a tone, veering from broad comedy to melodrama, with the final shift in gears towards a potentially explosive finale never really feeling convincing. Much-hyped cameos by Xavier Horan and Lucy Lawless also end up being blink-and-you’ll-miss-em affairs, serving only to set up a potential sequel this scarcely deserves.
A blunt comedy that, despite some bright moments and characters, fails to blaze.
Toke screens on Three at 8.35pm on Monday, September 14 and will then be available to stream on ThreeNow.