A gaggle of college kids drive into the woods in the South for a weekend of drinking cheap beer, smoking weed, and going skinny-dipping. On the way, they run into two suspicious hillbillies who just happen to live a rundown shack nearby. We all know where this is headed.
But that’s the twist; neither Tucker (Alan Tudyk) nor Dale (Tyler Labine) are murderous hillbillies, just two good ole’ boys out to renovate a rundown cabin, fish, and drink beer. When the two rescue one of the college students from drowning in a nearby lake and take her back to their cabin, the rest of her friends assume the worst and set out to rescue her. In proper slasher fashion, the teens one by one die a bloody death by way of accidental suicide, leaving Tucker and Dale horrified and very confused.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is essentially a film built around a single joke, but it is well executed and well acted enough to keep the joke from going stale too soon. Director Eli Craig has fun showing the perspective of the college kids, using ominous music and quick shots of Tucker and Dale looking at the kids, and makes it seem like the backwoods of the South are truly a scary place. Of course, the music stops and the point of view returns to our two heroes, who are just leaning on their truck, shopping, or just looking over in the college kids’ direction, thus proving that scary music can make nothing look foreboding.
Tudyk and Labine make for a great duo and they keep the film grounded, which keeps the premise of the film fresh. Instead of playing Tucker and Dale as morons, Tudyk and Labine play their roles straight without giving in to the ridiculousness of the plot. Tucker and Dale are normal guys who react to college kids impaling themselves as most people would- with terror- and their sincere confusion only adds to the humor.
Idiot kids enveloped in sex-and-drugs are a staple in slasher movies; comedian Pablo Francisco once said you could strangle them with a cordless phone. The never-were victims of Tucker and Dale do this one better and kill themselves, leaving the film with no need for a knife-wielding maniac. Although college co-eds are casualty commodities in horror movies anyway, there is little effort to make them contemporary caricatures- save for the amped, popped collar wearing super bro leader (Jesse Moss)- which would have made for some more barbed laughs.
Around the third act of the film the joke loses some steam, and real killer-in-the-woods is revealed as an obligatory resolution. Unfortunately, the change in pace causes the film to stall- not so much that it renders the film unfunny from then on, but its just not as fun. To the film’s credit, the last act is played out well enough due to its cast, but it flips the film’s anti-slasher premise right side up.
That being said, Tucker and Dale is proof that, with a clever idea and a solid cast, even a tired storyline can be made new and enjoyable again.