If “Tucker & Dale vs Evil” had been a “Funny or Die” viral video, it would’ve been genius. If “Tucker & Dale” had been a 30-minute short film, it would have been very entertaining, but as a film that clocks in at nearly 90 minutes, it definitely overstays its welcome.
The titular heroes are two hillbillies on their way to their ideal vacation home – a ramshackle cabin that’s straight out of “Evil Dead II.” The house is a dilapidated mess with animal bones hanging from the ceilings and newspaper clippings on the walls suggesting the previous tenants were serial killers, but to Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine), it’s a dream come true.
After a late-night fishing trip leads the pair to rescuing a blonde bombshell named Allison (“30 Rock” actress Katrina Bowden) from drowning, Allison’s friends misconstrue the boys’ rescue as a kidnap attempt. Then Allison’s friends ensure that things get very bloody and out of control, attacking the duo and intruding on their vacation time as a means to rescue their friend.
The central joke of the movie is that the tables have been turned in this situation. While yokels like Tucker and Dale are usually the antagonists in these sorts of “urbanites vs. the backwoods”-type films, the kids are now the ferocious predators in this confused game of cat and mouse.
Writer-director Eli Craig does a standout job with the film’s setup, initially turning the “Deliverance”-style plot on its head. Yet once the blood starts flying and the kids begin attacking Tucker and Dale in truly gruesome ways, it becomes a little too silly.
Many of the tropes of this particular genre are satirized in humorous ways. When Tucker mistakenly saws into a beehive, causing the bees to chase after him as he manically swings a chainsaw through the air, Allison’s friends see him as a Leatherface-type madman straight out of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
Yet for every funny gag at the expense of the film’s main punchline, there are several more like it that quickly follow, becoming increasingly less funny.
Craig also intends to inject the film with a little emotion, leading Labine’s character Dale into a relationship with the beautiful Allison – a girl obviously out of his league. We’re supposed to believe that Dale has never stood up for anything in his life before he starts to fall in love with Allison, but it’s an aspect of the film that just feels forced.
Many film critics have already praised “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil,” and for the most part, it is rightfully deserved. The initial 30 or 45 minutes of the film have the makings for a truly inspired horror-comedy in the vein of “Evil Dead” director Sam Raimi’s best excursions into the genre, but by the end, it unravels quicker than a mummy’s bandages.
Craig, who makes his feature debut with “Tucker & Dale,” has a bright future in either horror or comedy. He’s assembled a cast that produces bright performances all around and has a keen eye for visual set pieces, but it just doesn’t all work out in the end for this first film. Better luck next time.