Sundance midnight movie 'Tucker & Dale VS Evil' works in fits and starts
Does the slasher-movie comedy deliver on its postmodern promise?
At the opposite end of the "Very Long Day With More Snow Than I've Seen In The Entire Past 25 Years," I found myself settling in just in time for the 11:59 show of "Tucker & Dale vs Evil," part of the Park City at Midnight line-up this year. It's a strong midnight line-up in general, and I really wrestled with seeing either this or "Splice" tonight. I'll see "Splice" on Saturday night, and I'm looking forward to it based on the reactions I'm hearing from people I trust.
I'm not sure if I'll be as effusive in my reactions to "Tucker & Dale," though. I didn't think it was a bad film, and stars Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk are pretty fantastic together. They are both comic gold pretty much every time they open their mouths, a matter of two guys with amazing timing playing off each other like clockwork. My issues lie more with a screenplay that has a great idea but can't quite execute it with the nimble wit it deserves, and with a director whose work is solid, but not great at nailing down the biggest laughs that the film sets up.
If you haven't seen the unfinished promo reel that leaked online last month, the premise is fairly simple. Labine and Tudyk play Dale and Tucker, two friends who are high-functioning hillbillies, good guys who have just bought a vacation cabin that they're planning to fix up. As they're driving up to the cabin for the first time to do some rennovations and, time permitting, some fishing, they cross paths with a bunch of college kids who are also headed up to the same general area for some camping. The shy but sweet Dale tries to talk to one of the girls, psychology student Allison ("30 Rock" hottie Katrina Bowden), and in the process, terrifies the entire carload of kids into thinking their lives are in danger from the sorts of crazed mountain folk who have become a staple in horror films.
Through a series of misunderstandings and accidents, Dale and Tucker end up rescuing Allison from drowning, and young-Tom-Cruise-intense frat boy Chad (Jesse Moss) decides that he's not going to run from the psychos, but will instead fight back. Things get bloody, then get bloodier, and for a long time, Tucker and Dale have no idea what's going on, gradually realizing that they're going to have to play this psychotic game if they're going to survive.
There are a lot of clever ideas about our expectations of the slasher genre, and there are some sequences that really work because of Labine and Tudyk, but in the end, it's not a movie that works as a coherent whole. It would have needed to commit more to the horror side of the equation for the comedy to pack the punch that it should have packed. There is some funny gore, but if they were really looking to bend the conventions, they would have been even more inventive about the blood and guts. It's one of those films that I don't want to dislike, and I would say that there's going to be an audience that absolutely embraces and indulges every beat of the film, just pleased to see the treatment of the subject matter. I just felt like beyond the main three actors, the rest of the cast isn't able to really nail the subtle interplay that would sell the film's satirical flourishes.
it is always hard to both be a satire of a genre and also be a legitimate entry in the genre, and "T&DvsE" aims for both. As a result, I feel like it's just too uneven. I think we'll see a lot more from Eli Craig, and I think he's going to both find a distributor for this film and an audience that's very receptive. I just wanted more from it, and I think it's a softball on a night I would have liked a home run.
I'll have more for you as Saturday wears on, including reviews of "Vegetarian," "7 Days," "Frozen," and "Teenage Paparazzo." For now, I'm looking at about five hours of possible sleep, and then all of this starts again.
Have I mentioned how much I'm loving it right now? Because I totally am.
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