Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is a one-joke movie, but it’s a good joke, at least in concept. Unfortunately, writer/director Eli Craig doesn’t bring much else to that joke nor is he able to execute it to it’s fullest potential. The result is a middling effort, a half-boner of a film, that benefits from the performances of its two leads, “Firefly’s” Alan Tudyk and “The Reaper’s” Taylor Labine, as well as the inebriation of its audience. It’s definitely a movie that requires spirits; Eli Craig doesn’t bring much of his own.
Tucker and Dale are two kind-hearted West Virginia hillbillies, short on brains, but full of good intentions. The movie is set in the rural backwoods, where Tucker and Dale have bought a run-down cabin falling apart at the beams out near the lake. On their way out to the cabin, they stop at the local hardware store and espy a group of college kids buying beer, heading out for a weekend camping trip. There, an insecure Dale, a burly Cletus Spuckler — emboldened by the encouragement of the hillbilly sage Tucker — nervously attempts to make a pass at Allison (Katrina Bowden), which is mistaken as a rapey overture. The wary college kids flee.
Cut to later that evening when the college kids are skinny dipping in the same lake that Dale and Tucker are fishing; Allison falls from a rock and is knocked unconscious. When Dale and Tucker save her and drag her into the boat, the rest of the college kids mistake their efforts for a kidnapping and set about rescuing Allison from the hillbillies. Those efforts, however, are thwarted, as each rescue attempt turns into an accidental death, all of which are mistaken for hillbilly murders. In other words: It’s Deliverace by way of “Three’s Company.” Meanwhile, Allison and Dale develop an unlikely romance, as she’s endeared by Dale’s chivalrous efforts while holed up in the cabin nursing her head injury.
The accidental slasher movie premise works well for awhile, even when it becomes all too obvious what will happen next. Unfortunately, outside of that premise, Craig doesn’t add anything to the standard slasher movies tropes. The kills — which are still the bread and butter of slasher films — are lackluster, at best, and the winks at the subgenre are only half-lidded. The best horror-movie spoofs work when they’re not trying to appear as spoofs, but Tucker and Dale wears its label on its sleeve and rarely bothers to wipe its nose on it. It’s a fresh idea, but even the freshest of ideas will suffer from stale execution. It’d be easy to blame it on the limited budget that Craig had to work with, but that’s the nature of independently financed horror films, and more creative directors have done better with less.
Nevertheless, Tudyk and Labine are game — they extract every ounce of bumbling energy out of the premise and double it; their efforts are over the top, but charmingly measured. When the focus shifts to the college kids, however, Tucker and Dale is little more than a straight-to-DVD effort brimming with lame dialogue and poor performances, especially that of Jesse Moss, the hammy villainous slasher pic version of Peter Facinelli. It doesn’t help, either, that the narrative eventually winds toward a predictable cabin-in-the-woods campfire tale finale that’s more lame than predictable.
It would be harsh to suggest that Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is a bad movie, though. It suffers only from the high expectations, expectations are only advanced resentment.” It’s still a much better movie than most of what the genre has to offer; it just doesn’t quite live up to its hillbilly slasher label.