Duma review

`Lassie with spots' is one way to describe this sentimental tale of one boy and his cheetah. In the hands of Fly Away Home helmer Carroll Ballard, however, this shaggy-cat story becomes a ripping adventure yarn with an unexpected emotional pull.

South African youngster Xan (Alexander Michaletos) finds his life forever changed when his dad (Campbell Scott) buys a farm and his mum (Hope Davis) moves to the big city. Alas, there's no room for Xan's feline pet Duma. But rather than dump him at the zoo, our plucky hero resolves to return him to his natural habitat.

So far, so conventional. But Ballard's road movie moves up a gear with the introduction of Eamonn Walker's Rip, a wily drifter who helps Xan negotiate the treacherous veldt. The scenery and animal handling already make Duma worth a look. But it's this friendship, reminiscent of Huck Finn's bond with escaped slave Jim, that makes it memorable.

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