Australian science-fiction films are few and far between, the main reason for this being that the genre is generally too expensive for our filmmakers to do it any justice. As such, The Chain Reaction is a rare Aussie attempt at a sci-fi action/thriller. It's very much in the Ozploitation mode; a serious thriller interspersed with overtly ocker dialogue, humourous characterisation and a few spurious excuses for nudity. As an action/thriller it has the requisite amount of thrills and spills, but as sci-fi it's somewhat less successful.
Steve Bisley (best known to international audiences for his role in the first Mad Max film) plays Larry, a mechanic who heads out into the bush for a dirty weekend with his wife, Carmel (Arna-Maria Winchester). The countryside has just experienced a minor earthquake, and unbeknownst to the locals this has caused a radioactive meltdown of sorts and subsequent deadly water contamination. A russian scientist (Ross Thompson) is told by his superiors that a fatal chain reaction is unavoidable and decides to break out of his isolated containment to warn the populace. His superiors, typically ruthless corporation-types known as WALDO, set about hunting him down through the bush. Their attempts to cover-up the entire catastrophe leads them to Larry and his holiday shack.
For all it's entertainment value, The Chain Reaction suffers more than a little from some muddled plot mechanics. Things aren't really made all that clear to the audience a lot of the time, and a lot of the emphasis is firmly on style over substance. Unfortunately, on this film's budget (which would've been typical for Australian films in the late 70s), the sci-fi stuff extends only to some exotic lens-flare on a multitude of truck lights and lots of shots of bubbles in oddly-coloured water. On the plus side though, the action sequences were apparently helmed by George Miller (Mad Max), and there's a spectacular bushbound car chase at the end. Also, Steve Bisley is memorably coarse as the unlikely hero, making me laugh or smirk whenever he was on screen, and he makes for interesting screen time. Worth a watch.
HIGHLIGHTS: At one point a character lights his cigarette off a welding torch! Also, here's some examples of the film's great dialogue...
(Carmel), "You look like a drowned rat, let's get these clothes off before..."
(Larry), "Now you're talkin!"
(Larry), "Settle down? This guy comes bursting in here in the middle of the night out of nowhere like a front row forward spat out of a grand final scrum and he won't tell us the score and you tell me to settle down?!"
(Carmel), "We can't have a dirty weekend without the polaroid camera!"
(Larry), "I need some negotiating power... 12 gauge".
TRIVIA: Australian viewers keep your eyes out in the early scene set in Larry's garage, you might spot a young Kym Gyngell (best known for his comic creation Col'n Carpenter) and Franke J. Holden as the mechanics named 'Crabs' and 'Farts'. Crabs is holding the blowtorch for the other guy to light a ciggie off, and Farts can be seen waggling his tongue out like a mad man whilst welding a car.