Richard Connell’s short story, “The Most Dangerous Game,” has given us a nearly inexhaustible supply of movies inspired by the tale of man hunting man. It’s practically its own cinematic subgenre. Though I doubt any iteration is quite so profane, rowdy, or as much manic fun as writer/director Ninian Doff’s action horror comedy Get Duked!. (Hard Target notwithstanding.) Come on, there’s supercharged hallucinogenic rabbit poop, what’s not to love?
The story follows four troubled city kids on an Outward Bound-style nature adventure in the Scottish Highlands, the type of thing that’s supposed to be life-changing and build character. Which it is and does, but in a ways quite different from the original intensions, as a group of mask-wearing rich people hunt our protagonists for sport.
Three of the kids are friends—Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan (Lewis Gribben), and the self-proclaimed legend of hip hop, DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja)—who are there as a punishment. Slackers and general ne’er-do-wells, they earned their trip by burning down a public loo. Their fourth, Ian (Samuel Bottomley), is an earnest, friendless nerd who chose to go on this adventure.
This mismatched/fish-out-of-water set up is where the comedy of Get Duked! lies. They’re out of their depth, out of their element, and entirely out of control. Three of them have no clue what to do in nature, but the brash hubris to flat out ignore Ian, who does. Not that he has the wherewithal to assert himself anyway. The situation goes from bad due to their ineptness (Duncan rolls a joint with an important section of their map) to worse, when the masked old-money elite take up arms and attempt to slaughter the unsuspecting teens for giggles and to once again avow their spot at the top of the social hierarchy.
When it goes all-out, letting these foul-mouthed little bastards run wild in the wilderness, this is a bonkers good time. They’re rude and dense and too oblivious to ever know how much trouble their in—regardless of whether they’re going to starve in the woods or be murdered by Eddie Izzard. But as bawdy and wayward as they are, as it progresses, Doff’s script peels back the layers to reveal the depth, texture, and complexity their rough exteriors initially belie. And the kids are all perfectly cast, bursting with adolescent bravado as well as crippling fears and insecurities. There’s a sincere bond that lends a nice emotional touch and makes it more than just a long line of swears and lewd behavior.
Wallowing in anarchic glee, Get Duked! offers up some of the funniest scenes in the last few years. But it can’t always maintain that energy and velocity. Doff plays with a number of visual tricks that work like gangbusters in some moments, but watch like an ADHD-addled TikTok account in others. (This affect makes sense considering Doff’s background directing music videos, and this trick definitely plays best when aping that format, especially one psychedelic barn-party that’s a riot.)
The film spends far too much time dallying with a side thread about an bungling force of local provincial cops about to lose their post because nothing ever happens. These scenes start out tedious. They absolutely kill the momentum, in particular when compared to the frenzied, propulsive spirit of the surrounding film. It’s like sprinting at full speed only to get stuck in the mud. It also takes time away from potentially much more interesting ideas, like the class strife that undercuts nearly every facet of the movie, or the affected creepiness of Izzard and his ilk.
Issues aside, Get Duked! is an absolute blast; what works simply works so damn well. Originally titled Boyz in the Wood when it debuted at the 2019 SXSW film festival, it’s a shame most people won’t have the opportunity to watch this with a crowd. It’s the kind of raucous, unruly comedy that would slay with a late-night audience. [Grade: B+]