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TBTS Reviews: Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil

March 6, 2012

It's not what it looks like: Tudyk, left, with Labine.

With all the terrible, terrible films foisted upon unsuspecting cinemaplex goers each year, it’s often surprising and a little saddening when one sees a film “out there” in the movie ether which was so solid, unique and well-done that it’s hard to believe it didn’t make the cut while something like The Devil Inside did. That’s exactly what went through my mind recently as I watched Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil (available now on Netflix Instant), which I’d heard a great buzz on from various film festivals but which ultimately ended up being tossed out to pasture for folks to track down on their own.

The film is a take on the “teens encounter backwoods madmen,” torture-porn genre so popular of late with films like the Texas Chainsaw revamps, Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 corpses, Wrong Turn and a host of other similar films. You know the drill: a group of partying kids heads out to the woods for some pot-smoking, drinking and sex and ends up set upon by particularly nasty, inbred rednecks who only want to murder them. It’s age-old. Tucker and Dale nods to that entire spate of films by taking the side of the poor, misunderstood rednecks themselves, who are only trying to enjoy a fishing weekend and instead find themselves set upon by alarmist teens who naturally assume the two men are there to gruesomely murder them.

Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) mean no harm to anyone; they just want to enjoy a vacation at a ramshackle shed, do some fishing and drink some beer. But when they encounter a group of skinny-dipping teens late one night and witness one of the coeds slipping, hitting her head and beginning to drown, the duo rescue her and bring her back to the shed to nurse her back to health as they wait for her friends to rescue her. Little do they know that back at camp her friends believe her to have been kidnapped Deliverance-style and are hell-bent on destroying the unassuming hillbillies to get her back. What follows would ruin the movie to be divulged here, except to say that the ensuing melee turns out to be bloody carnage of high horror as a series of miscommunications and mistakes begin to off various teens. Tucker and Dale, through all this, are perfectly clueless — they think the kids have arrived in the woods as some sort of suicide pact and become as unnerved as the stereotypes of their genre counterparts.

As chaos erupts around the shed, the shy and sweet Dale begins to grow an affection for the rescued Allison (30 Rock’s Katrina Bowden) while Tucker just wants everything to be over with so the pair can get back to their vacation. Eventually the titular “Evil” begins to manifest as the teens themselves as Tucker and Dale frantically search for a way out of their dilemma.

With Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, director Eli Craig has taken a deft, funny script and propped it up with solid production and acting — which is why it’s puzzling that the film couldn’t find a major release. It’s practically ready-packaged. Labine, in particular, shines as the clueless and smitten Dale; comic character actor Tudyk (Dodgeball, LIfe and Times of Tim) is a funny, hayseed Abbot to Labine’s Costello. A third act bid to develop Bowden’s character doesn’t fare as well, though the misstep is barely noticeable in the ensuing whirlwind. Craig’s attention to the genre is both loving and sharp, propelling the action to a natural (and appropriately melodramatic) finale in an abandoned logging facility — and ultimately what may have become a one-note failure in the hands of a lesser director keeps its steam as Craig and his cast continue to find new ways to keep the flipped conventions fresh until the end credits roll.

It’s an unfortunate mystery why Tucker and Dale didn’t get the attention it deserved, especially when major studios seem to buy up every two-bit horror movie with at least one “hot” teen actor attached. I can’t imagine it wouldn’t have been a success — probably with both gorehounds (it’s very bloody and messy) and comedy lovers (it’s very funny and clever). Ah, well. At least we can watch it now, after the fact. It’s very much worth the look, even if the masses won’t ever get the chance to adore it as they might have.

Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil is currently available on DVD and on Netflix Instant Streaming.

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