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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

HITCHHIKER (article first published : 2008-02-10)

This lightweight new drama is the most ambitious effort in film-making from South African writer, director and producer Chris du Toit, who is well known in film, theatre and literary circles in his country.

It would have been wonderful to laud it as something special, especially since it stars a 24-year-old newcomer who grew up in Durban’s Morningside and is currently studying film in Cape Town.

Another reason one wants to like it is that, refreshingly, it sidesteps the usual topics for local movies – social and political strife – to instead opt for a straightforward, contemporary story with no baggage, no PC angst and no apologies. Loud applause for that.

Sadly, however, the rather dully titled Hitchhiker – not to be confused with the recent US thriller, The Hitcher – is mediocre and forgettable. It is littered with limp dialogue and wooden performances and offers a flaccid storyline that not only is unconvincing, but unwinds slowly and concludes way too cosily.

It comes across as a sudsy, made-for-telly affair and it’s so crammed with images of the Cape and its tourist attractions, as well as a gratuitous Mala Mala game reserve sequence at the end, that it often resembles a promo for SA tourism - which, unsurprisingly, partly sponsored it.

Durban-raised actor Paul Gardyne, a Zac Efron lookalike in his film debut, plays Regardt du Toit, a love-sick bushveld boytjie who hitches across the country in pursuit of his true love, the daughter of wealthier neighbours, who own a game farm.

She is blonde Julie (theatre impresario Richard Loring’s daughter, Samantha), who also loves Regardt but is pulled away from him by her snobbish mother (Lynn Maree) and sent off to study drama in Cape Town.

Regardt hits the road and gets a lift to Cape Town with Charles Pilkington (Lee Savage), a 30-year-old Englishman. He’s a diamond magnate who, for the thrill of it, opts to drive his cream and black Rolls from Jo’burg to the Mother City, where his pouty American wife (model Justine Gundelfinger) waits in their swanky Bantry Bay home.

A friendship develops between Regardt and Charles – although, oddly, throughout the film Regardt calls him Mr Pilkington – and Regardt becomes Charles’s chauffeur. It’s then, while he searches for Julie and Charles picks up again with a woman with whom he had an affair (Julie Hartley), that the story starts to embrace a storyline involving jealousy, deception and art theft linked to Charles’s reclusive uncle (the late Roger Dwyer).

The film also features Rika Sennett, Erica Wessels, Martin le Maitre, Trudie Taljaard and another of Loring’s daughters, Samantha, who plays a campus siren who tries to seduce Regardt while he is looking for his girlfriend. (5/10)– Billy Suter




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