Friday, October 7, 2011

Most Evil Intentions

What if those two men you took for murderous hillbillies after they kidnapped your friend were just normal guys who rescued her from a bad situation? That's the question posed in Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, the first full-length feature film by director Eli Craig, In it, Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are simply trying to rebuild their new summer home, a cabin in the woods which Tucker has bought with his life savings. Little do they know what will happen when they rescue Allison (Kristina Bowden) from drowning in the nearby lake, as they suddenly find themselves targeted for death by Allison's college friends, who have mistaken the duo for kidnappers and monsters. I came upon Tucker and Dale vs. Evil for the first time entirely by accident; while I was waiting for my laundry to finish its cycle, I was playing around on Youtube in an effort to find trailers for films being released in this year about which I hadn't known. There were a few discoveries made, but only this film's trailer managed to make me laugh out loud with its clever premise, outstanding humor and amazingly graphic execution (pun intended). I was hooked and later I was even happier to realize that it was coming to a theater near me. That's right, once again the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline comes through, even if the film was being shown in the theater's smallest room, therefore making it very difficult to obtain tickets on opening weekend.

Look at all that cannon fodder
Much like what Shaun of the Dead became for zombie movies, Tucker and Dale takes a horror sub-genre composed of films like Deliverance, The Hills Have Eyes and Texas Chainsaw Massacre and turns it on its ear with side-splitting results (wow, the puns just keep on coming). In a great twist, the hillbillies who would normally be the film's antagonists are instead its heroes, with instead a number of twenty-something actors playing unwittingly dense bad guys. It helps that Tucker and Dale are played by the immensely likable Tudyk and Labine. Tudyk, a cult hero following his rise on the short-lived Joss Whedon TV show Firefly, plays Tucker as the "straight man" of the pair, a role he carries easily. His relative conservatism is well paired with the erratic and more jovial Dale, played by Labine. The main hero of the tale, Dale is just a good guy who loves his dog, playing board games and hanging out with his best friend, Tucker. He also has a difficult time talking to cute girls, which causes half of the film's major conflicts. Always nervous that talking to a cute girl would cause people to "start dying", seeing Dale come out of his shell across from Katrina Bowden is a genuinely nice touch. Labine hasn't had many breaks in his career, but this film allows him some freedom and might lead to something of a Jack Black future; putting him alone on top would be a mistake, but having him work supporting roles would make his obvious weaknesses less glaring.

Labine needs to work on his devilish mustache...
Those two actors are by far the best reasons to plunk down your cash and see Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, as anyone else on the cast seems uninspired by comparison. Of course, most of this is the fact that little-known actors fill up most of the smaller roles, but the simple fact is that these college kids are fairly standard, with no real difference between them. I guarantee that the main reasons you'll identify someone will be cosmetically, most notably the color of their skin or the size of their chest. Of course, there are always exceptions, with this film's being Bowden as a smart young woman who doesn't need rescuing but with a penchant for being clocked upside the head on a regular basis. Bowden, who most people will know as the ditsy secretary from NBC's 30 Rock, plays a much smarter "victim" than you usually see in these types films, obviously an intentional turn. To her credit, she takes everything thrown at her and does just fine, which is more than you can say for her co-stars. Most are good for little more than bloodletting, and some (especially Jesse Moss as the leader of the college kids and Philip Granger as a local Sheriff) play their parts too strongly to really be taken seriously.

George of the Jungle's ignominious fate...
If you're seeing this film, you do it for two reasons: laughing your ass off, and seeing tons of gore, which also makes you laugh your ass off. Even if getting to see these kids kill themselves in hilariously complicated fashions wasn't enough, the script is chock full of clever dialogue expertly delivered by the film's leads. My only complaint in this regard is in the film's spoofing nature; since you know it's a comedy, you can see the gags and deaths coming a mile away, even if you haven't already seen the trailers. The film's setup is also flawed in that regard, and we never for a second confuse Tucker and Dale for the monsters their enemies view them as. That being said, since the nature of this film is a spoof anyway, these moments are never wasted, and from the beginning we're treated to laughs both intentional and not. A slightly creepy opening would have HELPED, but in the end it's really not that big a deal.

These two are just having the worst day
Is Tucker and Dale vs. Evil a must see? Well, that depends. If you love horror or love comedies (or both), you'll probably have a great time and never regret searching for a theater where it might be playing. In a just world, Tudyk and Labine would be the Canadian versions of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, with Tucker and Dale commanding the same respect the British duo earned for Shaun of the Dead. That might be a but much to hope for, but I still think this is among the best comedies released in theaters in 2011. If you happen to be near a theater showing it (like the aforementioned Coolidge Corner in Brookline), I think you should take a look. If not, you're missing out on one of the year's overlooked little gems.

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