Go! is set in the world of go-kart racing and is pleasant but predictable

Go! (PG)

Three stars

William Lodder, left and Frances O'Connor in Go! Picture: Roadshow

William Lodder, left and Frances O'Connor in Go! Picture: Roadshow

What do you get if you combine The Karate Kid and Days of Thunder in an Australian kids' movie? The answer is Go! and the comparison is not mine: the makers don't seem to be shying away from it.

The film was written by Steve Worland, who co-wrote another Aussie underdog drama about a kid involved in a slightly offbeat sport, Paper Planes (2014). Not surprisingly, Go! is somewhat reminiscent of that film, too.

So how does such a derivative movie - not to be confused with the Doug Liman-directed Go (1999), which is very different - stand up on its own merits?

We'll get to that.

Christie Hooper (played by Frances O'Connor), who was widowed several years ago, and her teenage son Jack (William Lodder), have moved one summer from Sydney to the small Western Australian town of Busselton. The reason for such a major shift, to the other side of the continent, is a little vague: they don't know anyone and while Christie is opening a small greengrocery store as a means of support, it's not clear why she had to go there to do it.

Anyway, Christie wangles a invitation for Jack to a birthday party at a go-kart course so he can meet other kids before school starts. He is quickly attracted both to the sport and to the birthday girl, aspiring young mechanic Mandy Zeta (Anastasia Bampos). Mandy faces derision and discrimination in that male-dominated world, even from her father Mike (Damien de Montas).

Mike devotes his attentions to Mandy's brother, Dean (Cooper van Grootel), pushing him to be a go-kart champion (they have an aggressive mantra they recite together before each race).

It's probably because of this neglect that Mandy surreptitiously helps Jack in his new-found passion, helping him repair an old go-kart he found at the course. Accompanying them is Jack's other new-found friend, Colin (Darius Amarfio Jefferson), who seems intended as the comic relief.

The venue is owned by Patrick (Richard Roxburgh), who lives in a caravan on the premises and is a gruff, mysterious figure. Jack offers to work for him in exchange for go-kart time on the track and also asks for coaching in the sport so he can enter an upcoming competition. This results in a series of unusual orders, some mundane, like spraying the track, others decidedly unusual, such as painting a trailer with a brush attached to a helmet on his head. If this sounds reminiscent of Mr Miyagi and Daniel in The Karate Kid, that's not coincidental.

Meanwhile, Jack is also trying to help his lonely mother by setting her up with a local policeman, Barry (Dan Wyllie), who caught the unlicensed kid doing donuts in his mother's car. Jack isn't just being a lawbreaking nuisance, though: one of his best memories is doing donuts with his dad, whom he misses terribly.

There are a number of improbabilities in Go!: one of the most glaring is Jack's ability to go from a complete go-karting novice to a championship contender in the space of one summer.

This underdog story plays out fairly predictably and the characters are a little cliched, with good guys and bad guys clearly delineated. Some of them, like Colin, don't have a lot to do and at times the dialogue sounds a bit arch.

However, the actors - both veteran and young - are appealing, with first-timer Lodder carrying off the lead sympathetically and well.

Director Owen Trevor - a director on the series Top Gear - does a good job with the go-kart racing scenes, which could be monotonous but are filmed and edited to maintain visual interest and excitement, with effective use of split-screen multiple imagery.

Jack's memories of his father are also well shot, with some visual effects well used to heighten the emotional effect of the flashbacks.

There are also some aerial shots, filmed directly from overhead which look good but seem unnecessarily frequent. As so often with films, more time and effort could have been spent polishing the script and less dreaming up shots like these.

Go! isn't anything remarkable but it's a pleasant enough Australian family film for the summer.

This story A predictable but pleasant ride first appeared on The Canberra Times.