Ronnie (Joe Mullaney) and Will (Vincent Friell) are two young no-hopers from Edinburgh dissatisfied with their lot in life. Ronnie works in a joke shop, selling novelties, while Will finds himself a job sweeping the streets, but their desperation and lack of money cause Will to give up cleaning the roads and Ronnie to suggest a new avenue for their efforts: highway robbery. Will takes plenty of convincing, and worries that his warts may be a condition brought on by veering into a life of crime, but nevertheless the duo are soon riding through the Highlands dressed in a clown mask and a werewolf mask to disguise their true identities and holding up the tourist coaches. However, their simple plan throws up a host of complications...
According to the credits the script for Restless Natives, written by Ninian Dunnett, was the winner of a United Kingdom-wide competition, and its modest ambitions make you wonder if that was more a factor of its success with the judges than the jokes. Resembling a film made by big fans of Bill Forsyth, it takes its slender plot on a ride around some of the most picturesque areas of Scotland, as well as some of its less attractive ones, which conjures up a vivid sense of its place and time, as well as gently (for the most part) capturing the humour of the locals. Casting some more famous names amongst a bunch of unknowns in the lead roles was presumably an attempt to garner a wider audience, but cult attention is all that the film secured.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, to coin a phrase, and Restless Natives, despite having a mildly presented grudge against non-Scots as the title suggests, still evokes fond memories among those who caught it on its first cinema release or later on television or video during the eighties. Our anti-heroes are pleasingly naive, as it wouldn't do to have them be hardened criminals and still ask for the sympathy of the audience, and on only their second robbery Will takes a fancy to one of the coach tour guides, Margot (Teri Lally), even going as far as chasing her down right after the robbery and giving her a bunch of flowers he has plucked from the roadside.
However, not everyone is pleased to be stolen from by Ronnie and Will, despite Will politely thanking them when they hand over cash and jewellery. No, a holidaying C.I.A. agent (Ned Beatty) gets a blast from their gun full in the face - but don't worry, it's a puffer gun filled with sneezing powder and these are non-violent thieves. Unfortunately the powder gives the agent a nasty rash and fires him up to help the bumbling local constabulary in their hunt to track down the Wolfman and the Clown, as they are being called in the media. Just to show that they're not all selfish, they even ride around Edinburgh estates and throw money after them to be picked up by cheering townsfolk, earning them a modern day Robin Hood reputation.
The only person who knows Will and Ronnie's true identities is Margot, after the awkward yet lovestruck Will blurts it out to impress her, but soon the law are hot on their trail. While never roaringly funny, Restless Natives has many pleasing jokes, such as Will always having his eyes shut in photographs or the Scottish policeman chasing the motorbike in his patrol car shouting, "I've waited my whole life for this!" in his excitement. There are no real villains, everyone is muddling through life, even Nigel (Ian McColl), the borderline psychopath who tempts Ronnie to more daring robberies ("Put the boot in!"). More grit would have upset the balance of humour, but the story loads the support too much in favour of Ronnie and Will - even the tourist industry picks up because of them, signalling a lapse into pure fantasy. Music by Stuart Adamson and Big Country.