"The Castle," a low-budget wonder from Down Under, is an amusing slice-o'-Aussie life. 

Homey Charms

With a rumored budget of a mere $19,000 and an 11-day shooting schedule, four Australian TV comedy writers turned a two-week writing exercise into the delightfully off-beat "The Castle." No one used to hearing about exorbitant film production costs or inflated salaries of stars can miss the irony here. Although, much to its credit, irony is the absolute last thing on "The Castle's" writers' minds.

Picture this: A working-class neighborhood in the 'burbs of Melbourne. Specifically, Cooloroo, Australia. Patriarch Daryl Kerrigan (Michael Caton) is a tow-truck driver who lives for his family. While others might see his wife Sal's home-decorating mania as a worrisome obsession, Darryl does not. He celebrates every meal she makes with a prose poem to the joys of her culinary technique.

But there's trouble in this man's "Castle." The Kerrigans are a sad lot of sweet-natured simpletons, who never seem to realize that the home they prize is really a cruddy little place basking beneath power lines just at the edge of a busy airport. When the government comes a' calling because they want to expand the airport, Daddy Kerrigan has a fit. He can't be bought and he can't be pushed off the family holding, meager as it is. "It's not a house," he fumes. "It's a home."

And that's the crux of the matter. Daryl is a homebody to the extreme. He's also a cockeyed optimist who sees the good in everything, but mostly in his lackluster offspring. Son No. 1, aka. Wayne, is in jail for theft. Son No. 2, Steve, fills the Kerrigan home with items bought through the newspaper. Doesn't every family need its own overhead projector? Daughter Tracey is Daddy Kerrigan's biggest success, a dink-brained hairdresser married to a kick boxer. Son No. 3, Dale, serves as the movie's hapless narrator whose narration is usually immediately repeated as dialogue.

In his charming but illogical way, Kerrigan decides to take the government to court to try to save his castle. This proves exasperating to the government which sees the family as obstructionist white trash. Which, in fact, is how the writers have portrayed them. But what makes most of the jokes work in "The Castle," is that nobody bothered to tell the Kerrigans. They haven't a clue that they should roll over at the command of their social betters. Although we laugh at the family, we also root for them. We understand on some primal level the need to protect hearth and home, no matter how shabby. Deep inside, we, too, want to believe that "right means might," especially in a court of law.

There's never a moment's doubt about the ending, so the true fun of the movie comes in the writers' wickedly observational humor. A relentless send-up of working-class tastes and attitudes, "The Castle" extols the virtues of the Kerrigans as much as it exploits.

But not everything in "The Castle" works. A last-minute attempt at social commentary nearly sinks this ship of fools. However, the glue that holds this family comedy together is the uproarious performance of Caton. A veteran of Australian TV sitcoms, Caton is to the patriarch and working class born. His performance is always believable, no matter how incredible his actions, words or feelings are. In it's own odd way, "The Castle" is as uplifting as it is

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