Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hillbilly hellions prove heavenly source of fun in Eli Craig's TUCKER & DALE VS EVIL

Movie clichés -- especially those in the slasher/horror/
hillbillies-in-the-woods genre -- get a delightful drumming from director, writer and sometimes actor (he plays the cameraman in this film) Eli Craig. In his first full-lenth venture as writer/director, he has gifted us with one of the funnier examples -- so much better than, say, Hobo with a Shotgun -- of a movie that wants to turn its genre on its head in some way; kick it in the pants, goose it into overdrive. With TUCKER & DALE VS EVIL, after a slow set-up, Mr. Craig succeeds surprisingly well.

The filmmaker, right, knows his genres and can thus make fun even as he gives his film what fans most want: blood, guts and kids in trouble. His ace-in-the-hole is the fact that he's simply made the usual villains into the heroes, while taking the ever present set of high-school or college kids from the nitwits they often are, into full-out certifiable bad-guy nut cases -- even if this is more accidental than not.

Though the movie, at 90 minutes, is still a bit too long, Craig has saved many of the best bits for the lengthy finale and denouement, so the laughs and fun do continue to build.

As usual among the lesser characters, characterization is minimal and the roles quickly dispensed with.  But in his four leads, the filmmaker has cast well and drawn some very good performances, starting with that of Tyler Labine (above, left, as Dave), who, along with Alan Tudyk (above, right, as the titular Tucker) make great hillbilly fun (rather than simply making fun of hillbillies)

The inevitable lone girl who must go up against the bad guy(s) is here played by Katrina Bowden (above, center), and much of the film's sweetness and fun are provided by the very unusual relationship spawned between Bowden and Labine, who make a damned nice couple despite, well, you'll see (but you'll have to sit through the end credits to do it).

The real villain is given a nice spin by Jesse Moss (above, right, with Ms Bowden), who plays Chad, a fellow whose lineage provides the film with its single best laugh. Oh, yes, there's plenty of blood and guts along the way, as befits the genre, but most of it is done with humor, surprise and invention.

Opening theatrically via Magnet Releasing on September 30 (you can check the listing of theaters -- a lot of 'em -- across the country during October and November here), it is also available via VOD now. In fact, unless I am mistaken, this is the first film from Magnet/Magnolia that we critics have been asked to review during the week of its VOD release, rather than waiting a month until the theatrical release. So, whether you watch it at home now or in a theater later, you're hearing about it somewhat earlier than usual. Click the link above or consult your local TV reception-provider for the how-to-get-it-On-Demand details.

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