I've never traveled outside of the United States. Even though I live less than three hours from Vancouver—the closest thing to "foreign" near me—I've never even made the short trip there, let alone overseas. Maybe that's why I have trouble describing just how appealing I find New Zealand's national coming-of-age tradition/compulsion: the OE. Europe is usually the destination for the "overseas experience," which typically begins in London and ends, well, wherever and whenever the cash runs out. Every year, swarms of young Kiwis descend on places like the Eiffel Tower and the Roman Coliseum in their cheap Volkswagon Kombi vans, living in youth hostels or on campgrounds, partying, drinking, and having sex; in general, experiencing the rest of the world for the first time, away from their smallish island tucked in the bottom corner of the globe.
Kombi Nation, as you might suspect, is about all of this. It's a fictional documentary about a group of 20-somethings that are shuttling around Europe in a Kombi van. We're first introduced to Sal, a tomboy with a sometimes abrasive personality. To afford the plane trip from New Zealand to Britain, she's agreed to bring along a documentary crew to film her and her friends' European exploits. Once in London, she meets up with her smart-but-naïve sister Maggie and her sister's slightly-uptight friend Liz—neither of whom are thrilled about the cameras—and together they all set out on their adventure. Soon they meet a charming guy named Scott, and they agree to bring him along on their way to Paris.
Scott isn't quite what he seems, however, and things start going downhill soon after he joins up. He sleeps with one girl, and then another. He deals drugs out of the van. He lies. With each of these acts, Sal and Liz gradually begin to see Scott as he really is, and when he starts cozying up to Maggie, they try to warn her against dating him. She ignores them, though; after all, when he and her are together, he's a pretty nice guy, and always charming.
But then their van is ransacked while they're gone, all of their money is stolen, and someone burns a cigarette hole in Liz's panties. Was it random thieves, stumbling across a van that was accidentally left unlocked by Sal and Liz, as Scott concludes? Was it Scott, revealing
yet another aspect of his sociopathic character, as Sal and Liz suspect? Or was it Sal and Liz themselves, doing something so outrageous and blaming it on Scott so that it would force Maggie to let them kick him out, as Maggie is inclined to think? The film crew knows, but will they tell Maggie?
As you might have guessed, Kombi Nation is a pretty light as far as drama goes. That's part of its charm, though; it's a fun, summertime adventure about people who make the type of mistakes that we all made at that age. There are plenty of movies in that category, of course, but few of them are as true-to-life as this one manages to be, owing in large part to the authenticity of the four main actors involved and the capable storytelling of Grant Lahood. Jason Whyte in particular does a good job as the manipulative, amoral slimeball, Scott. Apparently they spent three months workshopping the characters and script, and to their credit, it shows.
Kombi Nation is in 16:9 and looks about like any other indie movie on DVD. Not too bad, but not spectacular, either. There are no surprises either way here. In addition, since it's shot like a documentary, it's meant to feel that way, and so there are even quite a few consumer handheld camera shots in 4:3 throughout the movie.
Typical for a low-budget movie of this nature, 2.0 stereo is the only option available. There aren't any subtitles, however; unfortunately, it turns out, as very early on in the picture the music tends to blare suddenly, and too much background noise kept me from hearing some of the dialogue clearly. That clears up soon enough, but apparently the quality assurance technician went into a coma while on the job, since during the entire last 10 minutes of the film the audio is completely out of sync,
roughly a full second behind the video. This was repeatable on two different players. That's simply an inexcusable mistake, especially when it's such an obvious error.
A 22-minute making-of documentary is the only extra on the disc, but it features plenty of good stories and insight from everyone involved in the production (literally—even the cameraman weighs in).
Kombi Nation is a lighthearted film about the freedom that comes from being away from home and experiencing the world for the first time, and the bad decisions that sometimes follow. I enjoyed it, and I would have had no problems recommending this disc were it not for some easily-preventable audio problems. As such, I recommend giving it a spin and deciding for yourself whether or not you can overlook the technical glitches before you buy it outright, unless you happen to find it for a good price. Rent it.