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NOTA BENE: Mr. Marks drew official duties on this one, and you can check out his black-spot review in tomorrow's online edition of this fine media establishment. But we're nothing if not contentious here at The Big Screen, so here is my advance alternate take on the matter. Marks and Lickona: issuing dual opinions on minor Australian adaptations of YA novels since 2012! Where else are you going to go for this kind of value?

At the opening of Tomorrow When the War Began, an Australian high school girl who has just lost her virginity says that she feels different now, "like a real woman. I want to do more, be more."

Cue the invasion of an unidentified Asian military, the conversion of small-town fairgrounds into deadly prison camp, and the transformation of eight teens on a camping trip into a guerrilla strike team bent on taking out the bridge to the local harbor.

See what happens when you have premarital sex? Terrifying, deadly adulthood. (And you know who else has to shape up before he gets us all killed? The pothead.)

If the story sounds like Red Dawn Down Under or Road Warrior Jr., well, that's not the whole of it. You can't mix the pretty rich girl, the handsome bad boy, the mousy Christian, the disciplined Asian, the regular guy, and the intense heroine and expect to avoid references to The Breakfast Club.

(It's getting awfully '80s in here, I know.) Only this Club doesn't bother with the social barriers and mutual disdain - everyone accepts everyone, as long as it doesn't compromise the mission. And even when the Catholic girl starts in arguing that killing is wrong because the ten commandments forbid it, everyone's ready to listen and consider.

In fact, everyone is downright sweet most of the time, and it's a winning sweetness, a wholesome Aussie friendliness that almost carries you through the near-effortless transformation from scared teens to elite fighting team.

Almost. Eventually, the silliness catches up and overtakes everything else. But until then, it's a pretty, pleasant, and occasionally exciting diversion, full of breathtaking landscapes and intimate, small-scale warfare.

(My) Reader rating: one star

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Scott Marks Feb. 28, 2012 @ 3:12 p.m.

Hey, at least two people in town saw it.


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