Tuesday 17 September 2013

Buck Wild (2013)

Director: Tyler Glodt
Stars: Matthew Albrecht, Jarrod Pistilli, Dru Lockwood, Isaac Harrison, Mark Leslie Ford, Tyler Glodt, Meg Cionni and Joe Stevens

The first thing you need to know about Buck Wild is that it's a zombie movie, but the second thing you need to know is that it's not a traditional zombie movie. Every die hard living dead fan who got pissed at the fast zombies in the Dawn of the Dead remake is not only going to hate this picture, but might just call out a hit on director, co-writer and supporting actor Tyler Glodt too. You see, this is a comedy first and foremost, one that takes quite a few knowing liberties with its chosen genre. Why? Because it can. The chief reason it succeeds as a movie is because every actor in the picture is in on the joke, but they all played their parts straight nonetheless, however far over the top the script painted each of their stereotypes. There are certainly points where it goes too far, but mostly it finds a good balance between stupidity and hilarity. Surely the introduction of English redneck Billy Ray will be the key scene. Crack a smile there and you're in for a treat. If not, you might as well quit and avoid the pain.

Most of the story is completely stereotypical, but then that's the point. The four guys driving down to the Buck Wild ranch in South Texas for a hunting trip are precisely the characters you'd expect. Tom's the nerdy wuss with glasses, Thomas Alexander III to give his full name. He thinks hunting is barbaric but he's here anyway, to hide at the drop of a hat and make everyone else look a little braver. Jerry's the wild man from New York who puts out his cigar in his hand and carries a huge duffel bag he won't allow anyone else to touch. 'He's a bit intense,' explains his cousin, the naïve and straight laced Craig Thompson, who's driving. Craig sees the trip as a sort of bachelor party, even though he hasn't actually proposed to his girlfriend Carla yet. That leaves Lance, his best friend, who makes sure to pack a big bag of special brownies for the trip. He's also an incorrigible horndog and it's possible that Craig may be the only person who doesn't know that Lance has been sleeping with Carla all along.

It doesn't take much to imagine how these characters will all bounce off each other and it's no spoiler to point out that you'll be absolutely right. However, rather than play out as the usual dumb college age comedy, it tones down the sex and pumps up the gore to keep us interested. The Buck Wild ranch is run by Clyde, a backwoods hillbilly who has a hard enough job keeping his slutty daughter Candy from doing everyone in town. That only stops being priority number one when he's bitten by what may or may not be a chupacabra and he starts lusting after live flesh instead. Heck of a time for our heroes to go hunting, huh? Well, to add to the bad timing, they have a run in with Billy Ray and his gang of redneck thugs on the way into town and their place turns out to be situated right next to Buck Wild. Suddenly they find themselves fighting for their lives with kinky rednecks on one side, chupacabra infected zombies on the other and relationship drama brought along for the ride to slow them down.
Any joy or pain you're going to get out of this picture is going to come less from the story and more from the characters and the comedy they generate. The two relentless scene stealers are Jerry and Billy Ray, partly because of how outrageously they were scripted and partly because the actors who play them recognised that and treated it as an opportunity to go truly over the top. Each member of the core cast gets his or her shot at the spotlight: not only Matthew Albrecht as Craig, Isaac Harrison as Lance and Dru Lockwood as Tom, but Joe Stevens as the grumpy Clyde and Meg Cionni as his slut of a daughter. None of them are really able to keep it though, however capably they do their job. Dru Lockwood does best, because Tom is the character that the script allows to grow the most and also because it has him lose the majority of his clothes in an ever-inventive recurring gag. At the start, he looks like the weakest character, but he turns out to be the most substantial.

However, substance really isn't a driving force here, overdone comedy is and that's exactly why Jerry and Billy Ray are here. Jerry can't be taken seriously in the slightest, but he's a riot of a character that simply cannot be ignored. He quotes Nietzsche. He sharpens his knife in the middle of the night. In the dark. He injects himself to sleep. He trains in the nude early in the morning. With nunchucks. The only catch is that Jarrod Pistilli, who has surprisingly few credits to his name, can't quite hide how much he is obviously enjoying the part. He's trying to be Corey Feldman 80% of the time and Steve Buscemi the other 20%, especially vocally. He calls everyone 'boss'. If Jerry can't be taken seriously, Billy Ray is a step further. Mark Leslie Ford wears a hat with long feathers sticking out of it, alligator shoes and the sort of feather boa that a blaxploitation pimp might wear wrapped around his neck. He even carries a grenade on his key ring, but he's the host of a cable TV hunting show. With a British accent.

That first scene unfolds as a conflict between the pair of them over the use of a gas station pump, an imbecilic concept that works best as a demonstration of how over the top this film is going to get. Any audience members who get past it know precisely what they're in for and accept the lack of realism; not that a horror movie driven by chupacabra infected zombies was ever likely to be realistic, but you get the point. It's a testament to the talent of Dru Lockwood that he manages to keep his weak character somewhere in our realm of attention, because Ford and especially Pistilli, who has far more screen time, spend the entire picture doing anything they can to steal our attention back to them. Ford can do it just by calling himself a 'bad ass' (two words, not one, in his cultured British accent), while Pistilli has to resort to outdoing his previous exaggeration scene after scene. Frankly, it's a testament to his talent that we don't want to kill him half an hour in and he actually becomes rather endearing.
Beyond Jerry and Billy Ray, the most obvious things in Buck Wild are the movie references. Glodt and Albrecht can't resist throwing a whole host of them into the script, sometimes outright and sometimes through more obscured homage. The best example of the former is when Jerry and Craig argue over Lance, who is obviously not in good shape. Rather than dealing with him, they indulge in an escalating argument about Michael Corleone instead. They're in the middle of a zombie apocalypse and they're fighting about Andy Garcia. For the latter, one rescue scene is clearly a simultaneous homage to both Pulp Fiction and Deliverance, followed soon after by a pie to the face, demonstrating that it isn't just recent material getting the nod. Albrecht, who plays a naïve hero here with only a little substance, is clearly not quite so naïve when it comes to film history. He and Glodt refer to everything from The Road Warrior to 300 via The Boondock Saints. Well, that one loses them a little credibility in my book.

The only surprise is that the Braindead reference, a relatively obvious one given that this is a zombie comedy, doesn't go as hog wild as the source on the gore front. That sort of thing is reserved for other scenes; this is certainly the movie for you if you see killing a zombified priest with his own crucifix as humorous in a delightfully dark and twisted fashion. It needed more of that sort of thing and less of what Lance gets up to in the surreal scene that most obviously jumps the shark. As I mentioned earlier, there's a lot here to piss off zombie purists and that scene will have them throwing things at the screen. Those purists might enjoy how these backwoods folk react to zombies, which is frankly hilarious, but they'll have a few problems with the internal consistency. There's no real attention given to the outbreak's cause and the internal consistency seems to be rather lacking. Control certainly comes and go with abandon, which doesn't help the flimsy back story.

Perhaps that just wasn't a focus. Try to analyse this and it'll fall quickly apart under its own weight in gags. We end up following the jokes and wondering who will get a shot at stealing a scene from Pistilli or Ford. Dru Lockwood comes closest, with his disrobing antics. Albrecht is watchable with his Nathan Fillion charm, but he's too quiet to mount a challenge. Joe Stevens deserved more opportunity as the host of the apocalypse, in more ways than one, but he isn't given too much. Meg Cionni, who was such a delightful little pixie in Waking, is the precise opposite this time out, as sexually in your face here as she was distant and enticing there. This demonstrates her range, but doesn't give her much chance to grab our eyeballs because as soon as she's on screen, she's gone again. Tom, who kills a man with a fish here, calls Jerry 'a little over the top, don't you think.' Clearly he's also talking about the movie and, as long as you're OK with that, you'll have a blast going Buck Wild. It's a top ten trip.

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