You know what’s nice about cynicism? It allows you to be pleasantly surprised. While I really enjoyed the AFM reel for Tucker & Dale Vs Evil, I thought that I had surely seen the whole movie (the reel isn’t a trailer but rather a way of enticing buyers, so it could reasonably contain every good moment from the movie) and I thought there was no way the premise would work over the course of an entire motion picture. The basic idea is that a bunch of kids are going to the woods to drink and fuck, and while they’re making the trip they come to a creepy old gas station and meet two freaky hillbillies. We’ve all seen the movies, so the kids immediately assume that the hillbillies are going to kill them, and in their attempts to get away or fight back against this non-existent threat, the kids keep killing themselves.
Surprise, it works. Writer/director Eli Craig knows that he can’t keep the whole thing a bloody episode of Three’s Company, and he has Tucker and Dale – who, despite being proud rednecks are very smart, very sweet men – figure out what’s going on fairly early. Craig then throws another wrench into the story, one that will either work for you or won’t, but that keeps the plot moving and keeps getting people killed.
Tucker & Dale carefully balances lots of elements and seems to mostly figure out how to make them gel – the splatter comes fast and furious, and while it’s often very hilarious it can also be gut-wrenching. While there is some CG blood on display, most of the film’s gore is practical, which makes all the difference in the world when it comes to both grossness and comedy. Craig keeps that balanced with the comedy and the character stuff, mostly with Tucker and Dale. Alan Tudyk’s Tucker is the straight man (sort of), more like Bud Abbott to the Lou Costello of Tyler Labine’s Dale. The two have a great rapport and their relationship feels real and human, and the comedy chemistry between them is impeccable. They’re certainly good ole boys – they love fishing and cars and fix ‘er uppers and PBR – but they’re not dummies, and that makes all the difference in the world. While there’s lots of comedy coming from Tucker and Dale, none of it comes at the expense of them being fools, but mostly from them being too kind, too understanding or too considerate.
30 Rock‘s Katrina Bowden is Allison, a girl who ends up knocked out and in the care of Tucker and Dale, leading the rest of the college kids to think she’s their slave. She’s the only one of the group of kids who ends up being likable, which is almost okay. Craig makes most of the kids quick stereotypes, as they would be in a hillbillies-run-amok film, but he spends time on one lead kid, played by Jesse Moss. It’s perhaps the worst performance I’ve seen in a long time, and Moss seems to be in a completely different film than everyone else. While most of the cast is playing it fairly straight, Moss is taking his cues from James Bond villains or the baddies in old Republic serials. It’s over the top, hammy, and terrible. Moss makes every scene with the college kids interminable.
That aside, the rest of the film is a joy. Splatstick is harder to do than it seems, and it requires real comedy skill as well as splatter skill. Craig has both, and the laughs of Tucker & Dale aren’t just groan-inducing jokes you sit through to get to the kid falling into the wood chipper, they’re just as much fun as the kills. And Tucker and Dale are great characters, more than just the Shaun and Ed Gone Fishin’ types some thought when seeing the original footage. They’re the kinds of characters you wouldn’t mind seeing come back, and judging by the end of this film, Craig may not be done with them yet.
8.5 out of 10