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MOVIE REVIEW

Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil

Horror spoof makes for a funny goof

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By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / September 30, 2011

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There really isn’t a lot to say about “Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil,’’ a cheerfully low-budget horror parody opening today, other than that it’s fast, it’s funny, and it works.

Well, and the basic conceit is original. What if one of those teen slasher flicks actually represented an extreme case of mistaken identity, and the homicidal redneck maniacs were a pair of rural sweetie-pies who just happened to be holding scythes at inopportune moments? What if the teens were the psychos, or at least prone to impaling themselves on tree limbs and other pointy objects with alarming regularity?

As Tucker (Alan Tudyk) sums it up to a county sheriff (Philip Granger), “Well, hidey ho, officer, we’ve had a doozy

of a day.’’ Since he’s holding the bottom half of a college student as he says this - the upper half is still in a nearby wood chipper - you can’t blame a fellow for jumping to conclusions. But Tucker and his less worldly best friend Dale (Tyler Labine) have just gone to the backcountry for a little fishing and to check out Tucker’s new purchase of a very old cabin. Is it their fault that kids these days believe every hook-handed urban legend they’re told and every gore flick they see?

Of course not. Many of the richest laughs in “Tucker & Dale’’ come from the panic-stricken students misreading the visual cues with which they’re presented. When Tucker rounds the cabin corner doing a demented chain saw dance, only the audience has seen him accidentally cut into a beehive in a log. When they overhear Dale bragging that he keeps beating Ally (Katrina Bowden), the pretty coed the two appear to have taken prisoner, how are they to know he means at Trivial Pursuit?

Actually, Ally has bonked her head while swimming in a creek, and Tucker and Dale are caring for her until her friends show up. The slow-building romance between the hulking but tenderhearted Dale and the blonde hottie - a farm girl, it turns out - is one of the more subversively playful twists in the script by Morgan Jurgenson and director Eli Craig. So are the methods by which the kids manage to accidentally off themselves one by one, to Tucker and Dale’s horrified confusion. “I know what this is - a suicide pact,’’ says Tucker. “Oh, that makes so much sense,’’ agrees Dale.

“Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil’’ stops briefly to skewer any number of horror classics and clichés - “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,’’ obviously, but also “Halloween,’’ “Friday the 13th,’’ “Scream,’’ “The Blair Witch Project,’’ even a little bit of “Fargo’’ - and Jesse Moss as Chad, the most bloodthirsty of the college kids, does a neat, flipped-collar impression of Tom Cruise at his manic 1980s best. Still, the reason that this works as a movie rather than a collection of bits is that Labine and Tudyk are so likable as Abbott-and-Costello pals who may be unsophisticated, uneducated, and unwashed but are hardly dumb. Tudyk (“Death at a Funeral’’) has proven comedy bona fides, but this is a rare non-TV lead for Labine, and he’s great fun as a sort of Jack Black type with all the obnoxiousness removed.

If the happily gruesome vibe seems too good to last, it is. “Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil’’ comes down with a case of the sillies toward the end, as one of the characters turns out to have a torturous back story and Ally gets tied to a plank and is sent slowly toward a whirring buzz saw. The film just barely recovers, and you’re reminded that, when all is said and done, it’s junk. Still, it’s engaged, high-spirited junk. Like that hapless college student, “Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil’’ embraces the chipper.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.

TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL

Directed by: Eli Craig

Written by: Craig and Morgan Jurgenson

Starring: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss

At: Coolidge Corner

Running time: 89 minutes

Rated: R (bloody horror violence, language, brief nudity)

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