Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
“Why do you think they call ’em The Highlands?” No points for guessing the set-up for this line in Get Duked!, a comedy (opening online this weekend) with its fair share of standard-issue jokes and situations. But stick around, because writer-director Ninian Doff plays variations on the camping-trip-from-hell scenario that pay off nicely in this incorrigibly silly film.
Four teenagers embark on a weekend in the Scottish Highlands for the sake of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which has an Outward Bound-like wilderness component. They’re dumped at a trailhead by a teacher (Jonathan Aris) and instructed to make their way across glen and hillside to a rendezvous point. Three of the boys, in various stages of delinquency, are fast friends and none too happy about being here: Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan (Lewis Gribben), and DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja), the latter a hip-hop artist whose freestyling talent comes in handy during an extremely unlikely rural hootenanny. The outlier is Ian (Samuel Bottomley), an earnest product of homeschooling; he actually wanted to come on this trip.
The trek goes quickly awry, when a tweed-wearing huntsman (Eddie Izzard)—his face covered by a mask made of human skin, apparently—takes aim at the lads, literally. The variation on The Most Dangerous Game builds to an amusingly crazed explanation later in the movie, when we learn why Izzard and his posh cohorts are person-hunting. But there’s more, including a population of locals who like to party, and a local constabulary (represented by Red Road‘s Kate Dickie and Sunset Song‘s Kevin Guthrie) already overwhelmed by a bread thief in the vicinity. (Someone in UK television should be working on a spin-off series devoted to this rural police station.)
The material from those parts of the film would not be out of place in a classic Ealing comedy, but Doff also doses the film with zany visual effects (various characters get psychedelic at times), so it’s a little like an Ealing film colliding with a gonzo Ben Wheatley picture. And by the way, some of those effects, with multiple heads floating around in space and day-glo colors burping across the gloaming, are unusually hilarious. Doff, who comes from the world of music videos, is especially good about pacing the movie; it crams in a lot of characters and situations, yet rattles along without a wasted moment (87 minutes in all).
Doff pulls off an especially ambitious second-act finale, as the action climaxes in a handful of different spots at the same time. If his aim was to punch his ticket to Hollywood with a bravura sequence like that, he’s pulled it off. But the film, despite its occasional predictable gags and Danny Boyle Junior tone, does have some genuinely surprising bits, and a healthy embrace of black humor. There’s a bit involving dehydrated soup packets that has made me laugh at random moments since seeing the movie. Plus—DJ Beatroot. A great name for hip-hop, and a typically precise touch in a clever little movie.
Robert Horton is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.