[media-credit name="Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures" align="alignleft" width="403"][/media-credit]There is really only one joke at the center of “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil,” but it’s a pretty good joke. A group of vapid college kids — as familiar with the tropes of horror films as the protagonists of the “Scream” movies — believe scruffy hillbillies Tucker and Dale to be psychotic murderers.
Tucker and Dale are total sweethearts, and while their decrepit cabin in the woods looks like it borrowed the floor plans from “The Evil Dead,” they wouldn’t hurt a fly.
Through a series of elaborate misunderstandings, the college kids start accidentally killing themselves while attempting to escape perceived attacks. The bewildered hillbillies think they’ve encountered a crazed suicide cult.
This may seem like a quaint concept to build a 90-minute feature film on, and honestly, it is. What sustains it well past its expiration date is the considerable charm of its leads and an honest love for the horror genre it mocks.
At its best moments, it’s almost cathartic. Anyone who’s ever slapped their forehead in disbelief at the on-screen actions of horror victims who wander, blindly and unmotivated, into imminent danger, will find something to smile about. Here’s a film where the killer isn’t a chainsaw-wielding lunatic or a fanged monstrosity, but stupidity itself.
Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine play Tucker and Dale, respectively, and they are at the crux of what makes “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” so much fun.
They have an easy rapport together, and their characters, ostensibly just the setup for an elaborate punch line, have a depth and warmth that’s unexpected. Labine, in particular, transmutes Dale into a living teddy bear, all aw-shucks smiles and gentle shyness.
The brunt of this shyness is directed at Allison (Katrina Bowden), whose lack of superficiality spares her the fate of her less intelligent friends.
Some of the jokes are inspired, particularly the scene where Allison, an archetypal psychology major, encourages the hillbillies and college kids to talk about their feelings over a cup of tea. It’s funny enough to make one wonder if all Jason Voorhees really needed was a hug.
However, a suspension of disbelief is required to appreciate some of the film’s more shopworn sight gags (I mean, really, how many times can people trip and impale themselves on something?).
When a clear-cut villain finally emerges through all the farce, it’s a bit disappointing to see the film change from a light-hearted parody of slasher films into, well, a slasher film.
I was reminded of the little-seen “Behind The Mask,” which was similarly sharp with horror movie clichés, and devolved in a similar manner. “Behind The Mask” had a little more meat on its bones, though, and it could handle abrupt tonal changes a little better than Tucker and Dale.
Whatever its shortcomings, Tucker and Dale is good fun. It bears the simple, yet sweet, message of judging people by the content of their character rather than their dubious hygiene and Appalachian drawl. It’s not particularly deep or heavy, but neither is it stupid or needlessly cruel. Check it out on Netflix if you’re in the mood for a good joke.