Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine play two well-meaning hillbillies who can’t seem to catch a break in Eli Craig's “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.”
It’s a familiar story. A bunch of preppy college kids—guys wearing popped collars and backwards caps, girls wearing things that barely count as clothes—road-trip it into the wilderness for a weekend of mildly debaucherous drunken frolic. But things start to get weird after a few ominous incidents: an encounter with a duo of menacing hillbillies at a gas station, a wide-eyed sheriff warning them that nothing good ever happens ’round these parts. Sure enough, a little innocent skinny dipping sees one of the girls kidnapped by—who else?—the same hillbillies from the gas station. And one by one, the rest of the kids start dying in brutal fashion as they try to save their friend.
Nothing new to see here. It’s all been done to death.
Except in this movie, the menacing hillbillies who kidnap the girl are Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine). And they are the kind of hillbillies who eat pickled eggs and soothe their bee stings with Pabst Blue Ribbon, not the kind who commit serial murder. They didn’t actually kidnap Allison (Katrina Bowden)—she hit her head and they took her to their cabin to tend to her. And the college kids aren’t being murdered, they’re haplessly offing themselves by accident while attempting to save Allison from the guys who aren’t actually trying to kill any of them.
So begins the big mess of blood, guts, and irony that is “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.” The movie does for teenage slasher films what “Zombieland” and “Shaun of the Dead” did for apocalyptic zombie films: it celebrates what makes the genre great while mercilessly parodying it. The result is a movie that never takes itself too seriously but also never feels like a joke.
While the movie bills itself as a comedy-horror film, this classification is a bit misleading—there is much less horror and much more humor in the movie. For most of its runtime, “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” ingeniously takes the things that make slasher films so fun and preserves them within the framework of a masterfully penned comedy of errors.
The fact that this plot is pretty predictable—and the fact that most of the movie’s biggest violent shockers are in the trailer—doesn’t mean armrests won’t be gripped through explosions of laughter. The mounting tension of the horror genre is still present within the satire, as is the gruesome imagery.
But more importantly, “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” is funny as hell. The writers mostly eschew the quick, corny one-liners that so often make an otherwise great scene cringe-worthy and instead opt for much more entertaining situational irony. This is not to say that you won’t wince on occasion—some of the movie’s funniest moments depend on making the viewer very, very uncomfortable. But it’s did-that-really-just-happen uncomfortable, not give-me-my-money-back uncomfortable.
Much of the movie’s humor comes from the dynamic between Tudyk and Labine as Tucker and Dale. The two actors play off each other fantastically, and the awkwardly endearing redneck bromance radiates from the screen as the two try desperately to avoid being killed by the college students. And while their dialogue could easily have been delivered in a way that would have made the characters just two more annoying hillbillies, Tudyk and Labine bring an earnestness and candor to the roles that makes them genuinely likable.
Indeed, performances in the film are all around effective. Even the actors playing the college kids bring depth where it is warranted. Notable in this regard is Chad (Jesse Moss), the ringleader of the group, who is the kind of kid who takes a hit from a joint and then another one from his inhaler. As the film’s hero-turned-villain, Moss brings to the role a wonderfully campy machismo. And Katrina Bowden plays the well-meaning but slightly patronizing Allison with a well balanced mix of beauty-pageant treacle and genuine heart.
“Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” stumbles a bit in its attempts to humanize some of these characters, and the plot twist at its end is underwhelming. But these are trivial flaws compared to its successes. And it even sends a nice message to us hyper-judgmental college kids: Don’t jump to conclusions. If you do, you might end up face-first in a wood chipper.