Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil,” Eli Craig's directorial debut, suffers from a concept that would work wonders in a short, but doesn’t make for a necessarily compelling feature. Written by Craig and Morgan Jurgenson, the film follows the enterprising Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and the painfully shy Dale (Tyler Labine) who are on their way to refurnish a newly purchased summer house (littered with ample evidence that hints at a formerly deadly owner). The two men could rightly be described as “hillbillies” and through a series of escalating misunderstandings, a group of teenagers led by the psychotic Chad (Jesse Moss), believes Tucker and Dale to be evil incarnate.
When Tucker and Dale innocently help out Allison (Katrina Bowden) after she falls and bumps her head in a freak skinny dipping accident, our two heroes are understandably bewildered when their summer home comes under siege by the wily pack of teens who believe they are holding their friend captive. Dale takes quite a liking to Allison, and she fosters short-lived dreams of mediating the conflict in a civilized manner but all that goes out the window when the fists start flying and the blood starts flowing.
Good comic mileage is had at the expense of the young group, which is populated by fresh faced unknowns obviously long past those tumultuous teenage years. Raised on a steady diet of horror films, all of them are aware of the cliches that pile up, and yet, despite commenting in vain as their behavior grows more absurd, the body count stacks up. That Tucker and Dale are able to outsmart and survive these "kids" isn't played for laughs -- by the time Chad meets Dale face to face, the sizable flock of teens has been mercilessly cut down to a stupendously stupid few who will soon follow.
Right then, as we’ve picked up speed, the film runs out of options and settles for an admittedly time-honored combination of over-the-top gore and well-earned, though infrequent, laughs. Frankly speaking, this is a concept that would work wonders in a short, but doesn’t make for a necessarily compelling feature. The atypical role reversal is a brilliant touch, with the inbred villainy that sprung most memorably out of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” here portrayed by two likable character actors. Tudyk, Labine, and Bowden deliver game performances that manage to flesh out their characters and even gather up a little sympathy and understanding for Tucker, Dale, and the awesomely unfortunate situation they’ve been roped into. Bowden deserves a heap of praise for managing to make Allison a character with personality and believable smarts while baring the kind of midriff that makes men salivate and women jealous. The teens otherwise don’t get much development, with the exception of Chad, Moss making sure every line is delivered with zesty bloodlust. Chad’s approach to the crisis is to live out all possible horror film clichés and he intimidates a fearful group to stand behind him, as they meekly follow his commands.
Ample time is also given to exploring the chemistry between Tucker and Dale – the former a go-getter who dreams of a better life and the latter a timid man with low self-esteem and an intelligence that’s obscured by his scruffy beard and dirty overalls. While it’s not front and center, the relationship does get a fair shake and develops throughout the film, as does a romance between Dale and Allison, with both actors investing in having us suspend our disbelief that the two might end up together.
'Tucker & Dale' is genuinely funny and the first 40 minutes of the film are peppered with little moments of misunderstanding that plant the seeds for a quickly rising body count. A proper serving of willing meat bags, some creative kills, and sympathetic humor is enough to satisfy any horror fan jilted by the self-serious and frequently morally repugnant work that passes for the genre nowadays. “Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil” is clearly cut from the cloth of numerous cult hits and like the protagonists, makes no apologies for its outward oddities. Craig and Morgan tip their hat to the genre and armed with a novelty concept and a sweet, disarming sense of humor, deliver a funny movie with heart. [B]
"Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil" is available On Demand starting Friday, August 26th.