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The list of items prohibited at airports continues to grow all the time. Liquids fell by the wayside long ago, and now even phones and laptops are checked carefully. Some items have always been on the banned list though, and necessitate drastic measures should anyone wish to smuggle them through. That’s exactly what occurs in The Mule, as a naïve Aussie rules football player is talked into swallowing condoms full of heroin. What follows is pitch black comedy as he’s picked up at the airport and held by the police for as long as it takes him to incriminate himself in the bathroom.

Ray Jenkins (Angus Sampson who also co-directs and co-writes) is the gullible fool willing to turn himself into a mule. He states from the off that he’ll only screw it up, and a panic over his luggage leads to his incarceration in a local hotel at the hands of law enforcement officers Croft (Hugo Weaving) and Paris (Ewen Leslie). It turns out that although they can’t legally x-ray him, they can hold him prisoner for several days. Thus Ray is forced into an unbearable endurance test as he fights nature from the discomfort of a cheap hotel bed.
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The Mule is an impressive collaborative effort as Sampson stars, directs alongside Tony Mahony and writes with Jamie Browne and Leigh Whannell, who also plays his childhood friend and adult manipulator Gavin. They are further blessed with a string of superb performances, particularly Weaving’s vindictive cop and a wonderfully aggressive debut from Ilya Altman as a Lithuanian psychopath working for the crime lord who planned the whole deal.

There’s a nicely orchestrated sense of chaos as these disparate characters gradually coalesce around the motel where Ray maintains his constipated vigil. Whether it’s slapstick violence, cruel one-liners or broad toilet humour, the set-up provides plenty of laughs amplified by the deadpan performances and the eye for 1980s period design.

By the end, the plot starts to run out of steam, Ray finding his suffering constantly extended almost arbitrarily by a local judge. There’s also a superfluous role for his crusading lawyer Jasmine Griffiths (Georgina Haig) who tries to drum up a publicity campaign to no avail. Despite these weaknesses, The Mule is a hugely enjoyable comedy that will make you think twice about holding on in future.

★★★

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