Geoffrey Wright

Geoffrey Wright

With his second picture, "Romper Stomper" (1992), Wright courted controversy, telling a morally ambivalent tale of neo-Nazi hooligans. Alternately described as inflammatory (VARIETY's David Stratton called it "'A Clockwork Orange' without the intellect . . . a disturbing, essentially misconceived pic") and innovative, "Romper Stomper" scored at the box office as Australia's second-highest grossing film of the year after "Strictly Ballroom." Wright succeeded in portraying the intense, sadly delusional quality of the disenfranchised, under-educated youth but failed to offer a higher tone, an enlightening perspective that would have mitigated his almost romantic presentation of gang members (particularly Russell Crowe's tragic hero who at his hate-mongering worst is hiply glamorous). The violent battle between the skinheads and Vietnamese in the middle of the film provided the kinetic high point and proved the director's facility with a large set piece.Wright returned to disenfranchised youth for "Metal Skin" (1994; released in the USA in 1999), a look into the nightmare life of an Australian industrial park which was so unrelievedly grim that it played like a parody of teenage angst movies. Goosed up with car-smashing violence, Satanism and plenty of fancy editing tricks, "Metal Skin" was fashionably nihilistic enough for a certain segment of young moviegoers, but its overall appeal fell far short of "Romper Stomper." Again, the film's high point was a big scene at midsection where hundreds of tough-acting teens gathered at an abandoned rail yard for an illicit late-night drag race. Hollywood came calling, and Wright spent the next five years lucratively employed without bringing out any films. Slated to direct the big-budget sci-fi "Supernova" (1999), he lost the assignment one week before shooting commenced when the president of United Artists canned him, citing creative differences.Australia's enfant terrible finally made his US directing debut with "Cherry Falls" (1999), an $11 million teen horror flick. The reason Wright settled on this pure genre pic was simple: "It was outrageous . . . it even ends in an orgy. I remember telling the film's distributor: any mainstream American film that ends in an orgy has got to be worth making." A disturbing look into the closets of small town America, "Cherry Falls" sparked a public outcry in the isolated part of West Virginia where it filmed, though nothing like the anti-Nazi protests which greeted the London premiere of "Romper Stomper." Wright and company had used a local high school for shooting, "and of course the parents found out and are asking: Why is it that we are trying to give our kids a good education, and they've let these scuzzy Hollywood people in to shoot a puerile, tawdry Z-grade horror film?"