The “first day on the job” cop movie wanders into the territory of the modern Western in Patrick Hughes’ feature writing-directing debut, Red Hill. Ryan Kwanten plays a big-city policeman who asks to be reassigned to a small Australian town, ostensibly to ease the stress on his pregnant wife, but also because his superiors questioned his nerve after he hesitated to shoot a young junkie. The town he moves to is a ranching community, with one main road leading past the hotel, a town hall, and tourist traps. When he warns a fellow constable that there’s a horse loose in the parking lot, his new co-worker says, “Yeah, that’s Ol’ Bets, she lives here.” And when there’s a prison break nearby and one of the cons rolls in to exact vengeance on the people who threw him in jail, the locals keep secrets from Kwanten that could get him killed.
Red Hill’s premise is rudimentary, albeit sufficient for a movie designed to deliver one stylish shootout after another. There’s nary a character, prop, or animal introduced in the first 20 minutes that doesn’t become a factor in the story by the last 20, but Hughes embraces these contrivances, positioning Red Hill as an homage to his favorite genre movies. The problem is that Hughes fails to imbue this homage with anything personal. Aside from splicing together a policier and a Western, there’s no spin here, just a checklist of clichés, from Kwanten eluding the bad guy by hiding in an air vent to a stone-cold killer playing a cheesy ’70s rock song—Stevie Wright’s “Black-Eyed Bruiser”—before commencin’ to murder. Even our hero is just another honorable boy trying to show he can be a man by doing what’s right. Horses or cop cars—it’s been done.