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Tucker & Dale
Vs. Evil

"It doesn't matter what happened," a bee-stung Tucker (Alan Tudyk) tells his bumpkin best friend Dale (Tyler Labine). "What matters is what looks like what happened. And what looks like what happened... is pretty nasty."

It's also pretty funny. The hapless Tucker and Dale just want to spend a few quiet days in their ramshackle "vacation home," fix it up, play some board games and maybe do a little fishing. What they don't realize is that they've stumbled into the scenario for a slasher film, with themselves as the killers.

In Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil, it turns out that Tucker has bought a cabin connected to an infamous mass murder twenty years earlier, that had one lone co-ed survivor. Right on cue, there's a group of college kids coming around to camp.

Actually, they first run into each other down the road at a gas station/mini-mar. The college kids are motley and unmemorable, except for the tawny Allison (Katrina Bowden), with the implication they come from privilege but not much common sense.

What they see as creepy hillbillies checking them out, co-writer/director Craig flips around. Hopelessly romantic and hopeless with women, Dale approached Allison at Tucker's urging, to practice chatting up women. Unfortunately, he forgot to let go of his scythe.

It's almost Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Killers, as the opportunities to be misunderstood pile up and then turn deadly. You would think that Craig and his co-writer Morgan Jurgenson would run out of ways to have stupid college kids accidentally kill themselves while trying to confront Tucker and Dale, but no – there's no more repetition than in your average slasher film, though it seems like Craig owes the most inspiration to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with a dash of the Friday the 13th remake.

Improbably, a little bit of Dudley Do-Right gets thrown in as well, but then, this movie is all about subverting expectations. It would be easy to just upend the genre and have the two country bumpkins be secretly smart. Instead, the script itself is cleverer than that.

Tucker may dispense pearls of wisdom to the reticent Dale, but he's also just self-aware enough to know that Dale is the only one to think he's wise. They both know how more "sophisticated" people see them, but they're just truly good ol' boys.

And though Dale has an incredible memory for facts and the rare ability to actually put them to good use, he still has a simple demeanor and an interest in having a life that doesn't need his talents for anything other than the game of "Trivia Up."

It's the college kids that are stereotypes – except for Allison, of course – and that's par for the course in slasher films. Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil gets right to the heart of the genre. Not only do we often root for the college kids to get offed, they are often characters just one step away from being psychotic themselves.

Though entertaining, it isn't without flaws. A few plot threads annoyingly dangle, though that may be as much a function of subtly parodying other movies as just forgetting to sew up everything. The acting from most of the supporting players also walks a sometimes too fine line between being bad on purpose and just bad.

But then you have such magnetic performances at the center. As an actor, Labine has settled into the happy-go-lucky slob persona, but has a way of still putting a different spin on each role he tackles. Here Dale goes through a small but affecting arc, not willfully falling short of his potential, just completely unable to grasp that he really does have possibilities.

Then there's Tudyk. Genre fans already know this – he's got timing that sneaks up on you. Add in the chance for him to take on a dialect, and this becomes that rare moment where the character actor gets to be a leading man. A disfigured, possibly mentally deficient leading man, but one nonetheless.

Right now Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil is available On Demand from a variety of cable and satellite services, then getting a theatrical release on September 30. This one might need to be seen in a dark room full of people appreciating it the same way – it would be reassuring to know I'm not the only one finding this hilarious.

Derek McCaw

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