Sunday, April 12, 2015

Netflix Picks: Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil

Posted By on Sun, Apr 12, 2015 at 7:32 AM

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Hanlon's Razor states, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” Bear that in mind when watching Eli Craig's 2010 comedy of errors, Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil. It's a send-up of murderous hillbilly movies, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or House of 1000 Corpses. But Craig chose to cut inane pop culture references in favor of writing engaging characters. The result is heartwarming when it isn't busy being hilarious.

Nine mostly-forgettable college students are celebrating Memorial Day in backwoods West Virginia by drinking, skinnydipping and making unwelcome sexual advances. On their way there, they meet a pair of creepy hillbillies who later kidnap one of their number, Allison (Katrina Bowden). Chad (Jesse Moss), freshly rejected by Allison, is set to lead the group on a dogged quest to get Allison back at any cost. Their greatest obstacle, though, is their own laughable stupidity and poor communication skills.

But said creepy hillbillies, Tucker McGee (Alan Tudyk) and Dale Dobson (Tyler Labine), aren't what the college kids think. They're spending Memorial Day weekend at Tucker's just-bought fixer-upper vacation home in the woods to help Dale out of his relationship rut. But one night, while night fishing, they startle a college girl – Allison – who falls into the lake and hits her head on a rock. Being decent human beings they pull her, unconscious, into the boat. Strangely, her friends (the college students) run off as Tucker and Dale shout “We got yer fren!” Before taking her back to their cabin to recuperate.

Of course, the college students didn't see Allison fall. All they know is two hillbillies have taken their friend god-knows-where, and they have no clue if she's alive. In a reasonable world, the college students would call the police, and everything would get sorted out. But Chad has decided to play up his obvious boundary issues, play the hero and save Allison.

The group finds the cabin while Tucker is away breaking down deadwood. He cuts into a wasp nest in the middle of a log and runs like hell, waving a still-running chainsaw as he goes. What a perfect way to greet guests and make new friends. While fleeing at the sight of what appears to be a chainsaw-wielding , backwoods killer — understandably — one of the college students trips and is impaled on a tree branch. That's about how the bulk of the movie goes: full of farcical misunderstandings and gory accidental deaths.

While the college students find new and clever ways to die through the film, Dale and Allison bond over trivia games and Allison's upbringing on a farm. But as the bodies pile up and the violence escalates, Chad reveals he has a demented grudge against all hillbillies – he's not just stupid, he's actively malicious. And after an attempted peace talk, ever-classy Chad kidnaps Allison to a sawmill. Dale steps up and saves the day, ultimately winning Allison's heart.

A storyline like this could go two ways. It could push the goofiness with a cast of caricatures and stereotypes. Such a movie would join the respectable but forgettable ranks of Not Another Teen Movie, Club Dread and Scary Movie. Instead, Craig wrote something plausible – baffling and unlikely, but plausible. Tucker and Dale come off as genuine people – proud hillbillies to the marrow, but genuine people. Allison is kind-hearted, but also a determined and level-headed young student trying to be the voice of reason. And Moss gives Chad a solid arc from rapey alpha–bro to violent lunatic.

All respect to Bowden's 30 Rock-honed chops and Moss's solid villain, but the titular characters rule the roost. Tudyk and Labine really sell Tucker and Dale as lifelong friends, whether they're fishing, drinking or reminiscing about catching frogs. Labine falls into the role of “human teddy bear” without issue. It's not easy to sell shy and befuddled at 6 feet tall and chubby, but Labine pulls it off. And Tudyk usually delivers a standout performance, here owning the space between oblivious and fully aware of how stupid the situation is.

Unfortunately, things slope off when Chad goes full villain at the climax. It undercuts the pure farce for a much safer finale. While it's nice to see the teddy bear get his save-the-damsel moment, it's the last thing this flick needs. And in general, the love story is safe and forgettable – not an afterthought, but certainly not the writers' focus.

A clever story is not enough to carry the movie, but Tucker & Dale has more than just clever going for it. The acting is good, and the characters feel genuine. And, of course, it's really damn funny. If you're looking for a movie with heart and a sense of humor, it's hard to beat – as long as you don't mind wiping away the blood.

Congratulations, you're one movie closer to justifying that $8.99 a month.

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