March 24, 2013


"I should have known if a guy like me talked to a girl like you, somebody would end up dead." 

I knew when I started this project that there would come a day when watching a movie would be something of a chore, where I was fighting every natural urge in order to get through a screening just to live up to my own promise to myself.  I haven't quite hit that point yet, but Thursday night was pretty close.

It was my wife Jamie's 30th birthday, so after a deliciously filling dinner of lamb wrapped in philo dough and risotto with duck and jalapeno, plus the opening of presents (I got her a cookie scoop and a Silpat silicone baking mat, plus the 25th Anniversary Les Miserables stage show on Blu), needless to say I was pretty wiped out.  And so I found myself at 11:30pm, sitting on the couch with a movie still to watch.  I needed something short, something light, and something entertaining enough to keep me from falling asleep.

Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil seemed like a pretty good fit.

It's a riff on the traditional horror movie story featuring a group of good looking college kids spending a weekend at a cabin in the woods, destined to be killed off one by one in an increasingly gruesome manner.  The gag here is that our heroes are not the college kids, but Tucker and Dale, two well meaning rednecks that the college kids mistakenly believe are out to get them.  After an unfortunately awkward introduction at a gas station, Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) head off to do a little fishing and turn the cabin they just bought into their dream vacation home.  When they witness beautiful college co-ed Allie (Katrina Bowden) fall into the lake and hit her head, they fish her out of the water and take her back to their place to care for her.  Allie's friends, led by the cocky frat guy Chad, assume that Tucker and Dale are deranged hillbillies who have kidnapped Allie and plan to kill them all.  Fueled by an urban legend and one too many horror movies, the kids continue to misinterpret Tucker and Dale's good intentions for malevolence.  (Dale tries to leave them a note to tell them Allie is okay, but lacking paper and pen he carves "WE GOT UR FRIEND" into a log with a hatchet.)  They each attempt to escape or attack their imagined enemy, resulting in a series of amusing accidental suicides.

By now I shouldn't have to expound upon the comic virtues of Alan Tudyk, as any fan of Firefly can attest.  He's excellent here as always, although he doesn't really get a lot to do as Tucker.  If anything, he's kind of the straight man to Tyler Labine's Dale, who's a bumbling teddy bear with serious self-esteem issues.  Dale keeps putting himself out there to the world only to get shot down; even though he has something of a photographic memory, he never seems to be able to make the right words come out under pressure.  It's easy to see why he falls in love with Allie, who's both compassionate and unpretentious while also being drop dead gorgeous.  For those only familiar with Bowden from her work on 30 Rock, this is a refreshing change of pace from the aloof and self-assured Cerie.  Tyler Labine is absolutely the stand out though.  He's made good work of small roles in movies like Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and Zack And Miri Make A Porno, while scoring leads on quickly cancelled shows like Sons Of Tuscon and this season's Animal Practice.  Labine first popped for me on the CW's Reaper, where he played the best friend of a bounty hunting son of Satan played by Bret Harrison, a guy my friend Danielle insists is my doppelganger.   Looking at Labine's filmography, there's no doubt in my mind that his agents pitch him as a young Jack Black and it's easy to see why.  He's got a lot of energy and a great comic delivery, but he also brings a deep sense of pathos to his characters that makes him easily lovable.  Eventually someone's gonna figure out the right role for him and he's gonna break out HUGE.  Mark my words.

It's hard to watch this movie without immediately drawing comparisons to Cabin In The Woods, another movie that takes that basic self-described horror premise and turns it on its head, but that's actually a pretty unfair standard.  Setting aside the next-level genius of Cabin, the two films really have nothing in common other than the idea of messing with the same familiar set-up.  Tucker and Dale is a more overt comedy and, just like any good horror movie, the real reason we keep watching is to see awesome kills.  While each death is fairly entertaining, unfortunately they ultimately fall short of greatness.  Ideally each kill would either be really over the top funny, or reach Final Destination levels of Rube Goldbergian complexity.  There's a well setup bit involving a loose beam in Tucker's cabin that ends up funnier than I anticipated as well as an incident with a woodchipper that you simply know is coming as soon as you see the thing hitched to the back of Tucker's truck.  It's a great example of Checkov's old adage about putting a loaded gun on stage in Act I: by Act III it's definitely going to go off.

Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil is both funny and sweet, but overall it's a fairly middling effort.  There's pretty solid gore and some good zingers from the titular duo, but the overall message about not rushing to judge a book by its cover falls a little flat and a subplot about Chad's backstory doesn't quite make the impact it aims for.  (It's worth noting that while I didn't love Jesse Moss as Chad, the character's growing psychopathy over the course of the film is pretty damn great.)  A few more iconic kills could've pushed this one higher, but in the end it's easy to see why it was essentially stranded in the land of VOD.

But it was everything I needed it to be to keep me awake late on a Thursday night.

Title: Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil
Director: Eli Craig
Starring: Alan Tudyk, Tyler Labine, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss
Year Of Release: 2010
Viewing Method: Netflix Instant (TV)

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