When slapstick meets slasher
By John DeFore
Friday, Sep 30, 2011
Turning expectations of the backwoods-slasher flick upside down and earning a lot of laughs in the process, "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil" is hardly the first horror comedy to follow in the wake of 2004's "Shaun of the Dead." (And its scope is far narrower than that brilliant, genre-tweaking film's was.) But "Tucker" benefits from a sweetness not found in many of its peers, which unlike "Shaun" often lean too heavily on cynicism and gore.
There's gore here, to be sure - wood-chippers and pitchforks figure prominently, as do more mundane instruments of impalement - but one never has the impression that this story was constructed by filmmakers whose main goal was to show off the special effects team's gloopiest gimmicks. Instead, we see a script and some underexposed actors who were lucky to find each other.
Tucker (Alan Tudyk, beloved by fans of Joss Whedon's "Firefly") and Dale (Tyler Labine, a familiar face most recently seen in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes") are working-class Appalachian fellas headed to a deep-woods shack that Tucker calls his vacation home. As they briefly cross paths with a generic crew of good-timing college campers, the film introduces its crossed-wires M.O.: The guys are tongue-tied and goofy in the face of young, pretty girls, and the youngsters misinterpret their awkward grins as sinister taunts straight out of "Deliverance." (It doesn't help that one of the boys carries a huge tree pruner and the other has a mouth full of chew.)
When, in the woods, Tucker and Dale wind up saving one of the girls (Allison, played by Katrina Bowden) from drowning, her pals think they've kidnapped her. Their inept "rescue" attempt gets some of them killed, and each accidental death fuels two opposite theories: To the youths, it looks like a vicious plot by deranged hillbillies; to Tucker and Dale, it's an inexplicable epidemic of collegiate suicide.
Meanwhile, Dale is nursing Allison back to health, and his endearing attempts to stay cool despite being smitten with her give the movie a reason to exist. Labine is thoroughly winning in the role, guileless and dumb in a way the film rightly refuses to mock. Bowden may have been cast for her hit-series connections and her entrancing midriff (highlighted so often by director Eli Craig that it deserves equal billing), but, as a co-ed who's more compassionate and open-minded than she looks, she shows comic chops beyond her vapid-blonde shtick on TV.
The script manages to turn misunderstandings into a full-on feud while keeping both parties in the dark about the other's intentions, with the violence escalating hilariously up until a climax straight out of "The Perils of Pauline." In the end, the movie may be just as disdainful of its overprivileged college kids as "Friday the 13th" and its ilk are - one by one, they die for our pleasure - but, as "Shaun of the Dead" taught us, even a satire needs to know when to be faithful to its genre.
Contains bloody, but generally slapstick, violence, language and brief nudity.