November 23, 2016 -- I can't remember the last time I laughed this much at a movie. This wacky adventure set in New Zealand's wilderness is outrageously funny. It is filled with quirky, compelling characters and witty dialog.
I, like many other critics, believe comedy is much harder to get right than drama, so this film's writer-director, Taika Waititi, who has a talent for comedy, is a gift for moviegoers like me, who crave comedy in these dispiriting times. I am definitely going to be on the lookout for Waititi's earlier vampire comedy, “What We Do in the Shadows.”
This film stars awkward woodsman Hec (played by Sam Neill of “Jurassic Park”) and Ricky (played by Julian Dennison) a young teenager. Both are on the run from the law because of a series of misunderstandings. They are pursued by Paula (Rachel House of “Whale Rider”) a relentless child services agent.
At first, Ricky and Hec do not get along at all, but circumstances force them to travel together through the wilderness, hiding from police. Gradually, they become friends. During their travels they cross paths with some hunters and get into a fight with them. Eventually, a reward is offered for their capture, and the hunters are after them as well as the police.
Ricky and Hec also run into a crazy guy living alone in the bush, “Psycho Sam” (Rhys Darby of “What We Do in the Shadows”). Ricky also meets a lovely woman, Kahu (Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne) who lives in a remote area. Before the chase is over, there is a car chase, the army gets involved with helicopters and tanks. There are wild boar attacks, too.
The story isn't really believable because after months of traveling through the bush, living off the land, Ricky hasn't lost any weight. He is still as chubby as if he'd spent the entire time eating junk food and playing video games. There are other problems, too in terms of believability, but this is the kind of over-the-top, character-driven comedy set in a slightly off-kilter universe of its own where you overlook these things and just enjoy it. And man, is it funny!
I've seen Sam Neill in a lot of movies, but I did not recognize him at all with that full beard. Neill and young Julian Dennison are marvelous together as the mismatched pair of fugitives, while Rachel House is equally impressive as the pursuer, with her reluctant police partner, Andy (Oscar Kightley of “Samoan Wedding”). Rima Te Wiata is wonderfully wild and warm as Ricky's perfectly unconventional foster mother, Bella. She is just one of the charming, funny, offbeat characters that make this movie so rich, warm and funny.
The movie is full of witty dialog and lots of pop culture references to movies such as “The Terminator” series and “The Lord of the Rings” series. It has some very funny jokes based on both of those famous movie series. It also has a very funny funeral scene, as unlikely as that seems. This film rates an A.
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