The film Nightmaster, directed by Mark Joffe, was originally released in Australia under the title Watch the Shadows Dance. It seems to have been given the new title for its DVD release; of course, I can find no reference to a theatrical release for it ever, so it may have been a direct-to-video release when it was made in 1987. The DVD cover features Nicole Kidman prominently, as it was one of her earlier roles, and she is by far the biggest name to have been in the film; though she’s not the actual star of the film, the cover isn’t completely lying, as she does feature as the romantic lead.
The star is Tom Jennings, as Robby Mason, a student at a private school. By day, Robby, his girlfriend/rival Amy (Kidman), and their friends take classes under Miss Spane (Joanne Samuel) and karate under Steve Beck (Vince Martin). By night, they participate in a competitive obstacle course in which they try to tag each other with paintball guns and be the first to reach the target in an abandoned factory converted by their classmate Simon (Jeremy Shadlow).
Everybody’s got that one friend who builds elaborate set pieces to risk their necks in, right?
Trouble starts with Robby finding himself pulled in too many directions at once. Miss Spane notices his friends’ attention in class wandering as the lack of sleep starts to take its toll. Robby was one of her best students, and now his grades are slipping. He’s the reigning champion in the night game, the best student in Beck’s karate class, and he and Beck are due to compete in a kickboxing tournament in a few days. He’d like to date Amy, but she’s as much interested in de-throning him as dating him. And he has to deal with the harassment of the school drug dealer, Guy Duncan (Craig Pearce), who keeps hanging around Steve’s class and trying to hit on Amy. Robby doesn’t know which way to go, and neither does the film.
The film reminds me in a lot of ways of the stories and adventures that kids tell and enact on the playground. They know the story is awesome. They’ve thought up so many awesome things they can’t quite fit it all in, but they won’t let that stop them. But they can’t quite formulate them all into one cohesive unit, or convey to somebody else exactly what is so awesome. That’s how the film feels to me. It’s got karate, it’s got kickboxing, it’s got a kick-ass obstacle course that kids compete in. It’s got attempts at tension coming from romance, from responsibilities, from challenges, and from dangerous personalities. This is a film that wants to be “awesome”, and in fairness, I can see elements of that in the final product. But only elements. It never quite comes together as a coherent film.
What does a trampoline have to do with karate? Probably about as much as it has to do with the rest of the film.
The acting is fairly straightforward and pedestrian. There aren’t really any bad performances, but there’s nothing that really stands out either. Mostly they just lack good dialogue to deliver. Even Kidman is more noteworthy for being recognizable to today’s viewers than for anything she actually does in the film.
The film is moderately entertaining, but a combination of plot holes, a lack of interesting dialogue, and a substandard plot means there isn’t much to latch onto here. I watched the film the night before I started this review, and when it came time to start writing, I had to stop and think for a while before I could remember what film I had watched. I had already forgotten. There’s the potential for a good film in the concept here, but it didn’t come through in the execution.