Directed by Eli Craig
Produced by Morgan Jurgenson, Albert Klychak, Rosanne Milliken & Deepak Nayar
Written by Craig & Jurgenson
Released by Magnet Releasing
USA. 89 min. Rated R
With Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss & Philip Granger
You can tell by its deliberately corny name that Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, a gruesomely comic spoof of the hillbilly horror genre, wants desperately to be a cult classic, standing beside Army of Darkness or Tromeo and Juliet in some nerd’s heart. The result could have been a low-budget, try-hard disaster. But this frequently amusing flick, directed by Sally Field’s son, of all people, ends up being the minor midnight classic it sets out to be. It’s also surprisingly good-natured. In fact, Tucker and Dale almost reaches family-sitcom levels of sweetness, and might just be the tenderest movie ever made to feature a woman getting her face chopped up by a saw.
The film, co-written by director Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgenson, turns the plot of such fare as Wrong Turn (2003) on its head. Usually, in these pictures, attractive coeds going camping in the woods are stalked and murdered by evil rednecks. But here, two friendly good ol’ boys just trying to enjoy a weekend fishing trip in their new cabin become the victims a bunch of misguided college kids.
The archetypal rednecks, Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine), are decent comic creations: Tucker’s slender and practical, Dale’s fat and goofy. Dale is also a mess with the women, and his clumsy attempt at hitting on perky blonde Allison (Katrina Bowden, the secretary from 30 Rock) and her classmates at a dingy gas station is the basis for all the mayhem that follows—he waddles up to her holding a scythe and laughing nervously
You see, later that evening, while bathing in a lake near their campsite, Allison falls and cracks her noggin. The boys, out night fishing, find and rescue her, triggering a bloody comedy of errors as the preppies, mistaking the creepy rednecks for kidnappers, launch violent attempts to get her back. (After waking up, Allison actually starts to bond with Dale over games of Trivia Pursuit.)
There’s a rather slack opening and some obligatory and tired scenes where the rednecks are mistaken by a grumpy sheriff (Philip Granger) for gay lovers. But as soon as the bodies start piling up and the “college kid blood” begins to flow, Tucker and Dale comes into its own. It features some good lines, too, such as when the self-hating Dale, thinking back, regrets: “I always knew if a guy like me tried to talk to a girl like her, someone would end up dead.”
True, it often doesn’t make much sense, and the filmmakers even write in a girl who occasionally poses the essentially unanswerable question in a movie like this: “Why don’t we just leave the woods?” And aside from Tudyk and Labine’s effortless rendering of a pair of genial rednecks, the performances are as weak as those in the films it makes fun of. A particular demerit is owed to the preppies’ leader, the movie’s true villain, a crazed, Tom Cruise wannabe with a popped collar, who has a secret connection with the redneck’s cabin. But ultimately, this is a movie with a heart as big as Dale’s. There’s also a nice lesson for the kids: don’t judge a book by its scythe-wielding, crazy-eyed cover.