If you find yourself perusing Rotten Tomatoes this week, you will likely find something rather unexpected under New Releases, a movie rated higher than current critical darlings Moneyball, Contagion, Drive, Warrior, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. This movie currently (as of 9/25/11) stands at 100% on the TomatoMeter, a rare feat for a movie with 36 reviews, and possibly even rarer since it stars no big, bankable names and doesn't even hail from a major studio. The movie I speak of is Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, which stars two actors with sizable cult followings (Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine) and just might be one of this year's sleeper hits.
This is one of those movies where a smile never left my face throughout the entire runtime, because it is executed ever so well. The general underlying story isn't terribly original - a bunch of kids find themselves stranded in the woods, trying to rescue their hot young friend Allison (Katrina Bowden) from a pair of madmen. However, the spin on this overtold tale is quite original - the madmen aren't mad at all, just a couple of misunderstood rednecks named Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) who always happen to be at the wrong place at the right time for these kids to suspect them of being murderers. Tucker and Dale's new "vacation home" is just across the lake to where a group of college kids (Jesse Moss, Brandon Jay McLaren, Christie Laing, Chelan Simmons, and Adam Beauchesne) are staying. When Tucker and Dale inadvertently scare Allison and cause her to fall in the lake, Dale rescues her.... even though, when the college kids come around, it looks like they're kidnapping her. What follows could probably be described as an extended Seinfeld episode with a lot of horror and heart mixed in, where everyone has the wrong idea about everyone else, and it's just a ton of fun to watch.
Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine truly shine as Tucker and Dale, who do a great job in early scenes of looking like two guys who could skin you alive, and do an even better job of proving otherwise throughout the rest of the movie. They both have some fantastic chemistry together, Tucker as the more hardened realist and Dale as this big softy, who dreams of being with a beautiful woman like Allison, although his pessimism leads him to believe that will never happen. Just like Tucker and Dale, we see that there is much more to Allison than originally believed, and that she just might be compatible with Dale after all. Katrina Bowden does a wonderful job as Allison, a character which would likely be much different in any other slasher-comedy. Brandon Jay McLaren, Christie Laing, Chelan Simmons, and Adam Beauchesne all deliver serviceable performances as the college kids. However, Jesse Long was a bit too over-the-top for my liking as the angry college kid "leader," Chad, even though his character has quite a nice twist at the end also.
When you watch a low-budget horror comedy like this one, you almost expect something to be lacking, somewhere. It may be well-written, but suffer in acting and directing. It may have fantastic, gory effects, but has a horrible story, etc. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is one of those rare instances where you get absolutely everything you should - top-notch writing, direction, effects, and performances - with the extra added bonus of heart. There are some laugh-out-loud moments, horrifying scares, and even some that are both hilarious and horrific at the same time like an incident with a wood chipper. To top it all off, writer-director Eli Craig and co-writer Morgan Jurgensen really go the extra mile to make sure you care about the plight of Tucker and Dale, especially the big sweetheart Dale.
The whole theme of misconceptions play in wonderfully here as well. As I said earlier, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil could be compared to an elongated episode of Seinfeld, albeit one with much more blood and guts. I say that because, in most episodes of Seinfeld, the "conflict" could be easily resolved by being honest and straightforward with the person they're dealing with. Instead, they find bizarre ways around their problems which, of course, only escalates the conflict. Craig and Jurgensen seem to employ the same sort of tactic here, whereas these kids could've just straight up went and asked Tucker and Dale if their friend is OK, but they're so convinced Tucker and Dale are these redneck lunatics, it elevates things in ways that turn out awfully for the characters, and hilariously for the viewers. It really is a parable that takes the "honesty is the best policy" mantra to the extreme in fabulous ways.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a fantastic movie with a perfect blend of comedy and genre elements combined with terrific performances and an element rarely seen in these movies: a whole lot of heart.
Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil is out January 22, 2010.