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  Chain Reaction, The The Strine Syndrome
Year: 1980
Director: Ian Barry
Stars: Steve Bisley, Arna-Maria Winchester, Ross Thompson, Ralph Cotterill, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Lorna Lesley, Richard Moir, Patrick Ward, Laurie Moran, Michael Long, Bill McCluskey, Margo Lloyd, Tim Burns, Arthur Sherman, Barry Donnelly, Mel Gibson
Genre: Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Deep in the Australian Outback, there is a plant designed to dispose of nuclear waste and as the country is among the most stable in the world nobody expects an earthquake to cause a disruption. Yet this is precisely what occurs, and one of the staff present to ensure that nothing goes wrong, Heinrich (Ross Thompson), ventures out of his office to check the damage as the tremors continue. Unfortunately for him a pipe has burst and as he reaches it radiocative fluid spills out, covering him and landing him in the plant's medical lab. But he won't stay there long...

Released just after the American The China Syndrome, which was the bigger international hit, like that film The Chain Reaction doubled as suspense thriller and awful warning about what could happen if nuclear power were allowed to take hold, although here a more paranoid mistrust of the authorities was in play. Essentially, both films were saying that it was too dangerous to be used when there were so many factors in its production and its by-products that that could lead to major disasters - this was a few years before the Chernobyl accident made headlines across the world, of course.

Scripted by director Ian Barry, the film was notable for having its action sequences shot by George Miller and his team who had the previous year had a huge international hit with Mad Max, and they are among the highlights, adding a jolt of adrenaline to a story that keeps threatening to grind to a halt. Heinrich is not our hero even if he does escape the plant, that role belongs to Steve Bisley as Larry, a mechanic and part-time racing driver (important, that bit) who is off for a dirty weekend with the wife, Carmel (Arna-Maria Winchester).

But what should have been a pleasant break for these two salt of the earth types turns into, yes, a nightmare when they stop to investigate what looks like a car crash but what is actually what remains of Heinrich's getaway. Already word is getting out that something is up, which leads to the little old lady who acts as the local operator taking the fugitive's call being bumped off, just to illustrate how ruthless the men we're dealing with are. By and by Larry and Carmel meet up with Heinrich but his experience has left him traumatised and he thinks it's still the fifties, so they're in the dark about what exactly is going on - a disaster that has contaminated the water supply.

Therefore when Larry and Carmel take a dip in the river (they're both naked a lot, for some reason) the sequence is accompanied by ominous music (courtesy of Andrew Thomas Wilson) and we know their vacation has turned ugly. When Larry goes out to find a phone the next day, he is chased in his souped up sports car by the two main baddies, and The Chain Reaction looks to be gearing up for some high octane thrills. Although they do arrive, for some reason Barry thought it was a good idea to keep the main characters trapped for most of the rest of the film, so Larry is banged up in jail for much of the time and Carmel is confined to her room by contamination suit-sporting heavies. Maybe a better way to handle the story would have been to make it a pure chase movie, but as it is it's enjoyable, with the social conscience not too strident, though still feels like a missed opportunity. See if you can spot Mel Gibson, incidentally.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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