A film review by Craig J. Koban September 16, 2020

GET DUKED! jjj
 

2020, R, 87 mins.

Eddie Izzard as The Duke  /  Kate Dickie as Sergeant Morag  /  James Cosmo as Farmer  /  Kevin Guthrie as PC Hamish  /  Jonathan Aris as Mr. Carlyle  /  Lewis Gribben as Duncan  /  Rian Gordon as Dean  /  Viraj Juneja as D.J. Beatroot  /  Samuel Bottomley as Ian 

Written and directed by Ninian Doff
 

 

 

 

ORIGINAL FILM

AMAZON PRIME's deliriously bizarre and thoroughly hysterical outdoor survival horror-comedy GET DUKED! (formerly known as BOYZ IN THE WOOD) is like a twisted stylistic merging of Edgar Wright and Taika Waititi combined with its own unique brand of propulsive energy.  

Its premise is a basic one: A group of high school lads take a class mandated journey through the Scottish highlands and then are hunted like animals by some sadistic rich folk residing there.  The film manages to maintain a thanklessly good balancing act between being an uproarious, potty mouthed teen comedy and horror thriller while attempting to offer up some pointed social satire.  It's one hyper-kinetic cinematic cocktail amped up to extreme level 11, and I found it more infectiously entertaining as the film progressed.  That, and it showcases first time director Ninian Doff as one to look out for. 

GET DUKED! wastes absolutely no time with expositional particulars.  We're quickly introduced to a lowly and frustrated high school teacher in Mr. Carlyle (a dryly sidesplitting Jonathon Aris) who has taken it upon himself to teach a group of, shall we say, academically ungifted youth some much needed lessons in teamwork and initiative.  The trio of "difficult" students - including Duncan (Lewis Gribben), Dean (Rian Gordon) and D.J. Beatroot (Viraj Juneja) - have been tasked by Mr. Carlyle to partake in the rather grueling "Duke of Edinburgh Award" challenge, which involves them making a rather long, arduous, and dangerous trek through a particular part of the aforementioned highlands.  The three troubled and up to no good lads are saddled with one of the school's least popular students in Ian (Samuel Bottomley), who seems like the most bright minded and ambitious of the bunch, but one that's most certainly an introverted and disliked outcast.  Of course, Ian being mixed with these hellishly rambunctious kids is a gasoline on fire mixture if there ever was one. 

 

 

Early on during their nature assignment the boys struggle to become a cohesively tight and on schedule unit, and even though their mile by mile progress is being monitored by their teacher, the latter offers very little - if any - guidance along the way.  That, and the teens have no access to modern day conveniences like smart phone GPS apps to get them to their target destination quicker (this leads to Aris' best deadpanned line when he matter-of-factly tells the confused youth, "There's no bloody reception in the Highlands!").  Realizing that they're hopelessly on their own and desperate to get this horrendous ordeal of a school assignment done, the four students try as they can to acclimate to all of nature's hardships, but they're dealt up one awfully nightmarish roadblock when they discover to their horror that the ground they're attempting to cover is surveyed by the murderous The Duke (Eddie Izzard) and his wife, The Duchess (Georgie Glen), who sport horrific masks and pack all kinds of heat to intimidate, hunt, and kill anyone that comes on their turf.  Predictably, but quite hysterically, the boys band together and go on the defensive to ensure their survival from these monsters. 

The superb casting here is what greatly assists GET DUKED! through and through, and Juneja, Bottomley, Gribben, and Gordon have respective field days in terms of fleshing out their characters and finding a difficult to arrive at middle ground of playing up to the macabre comedic broadness of the material while relaying them as credibly flawed and scared out of their wits adolescents.  They're all so great together and command a natural level of authentic chemistry on screen, but my personal favorite character of the lot is unquestionably Juneja's D.J. Beatroot, who emerges as the comic juggernaut of this piece.  His arc is economically amusing: He's a dweeby Indian that thinks he is God's gift to gangsta rap ("I'm da future of hip-hop!").  He's so taken in with his own grandiose image and complete delusions of greatness (he is, at best, a mediocre musician that focuses an unhealthy amount of his lyrics towards the male appendage, which may have something to do with his previous rap name being M.C. Dickfire).  Of course, his BFFs try to explain to the clueless artist that his current angle simply isn't catchy at all ("I just don't know how gangster a vegetable can be!"). 

This culminates in a wicked subplot that involves Beatroot becoming separated by his ostracizing pals at one point and is picked up and taken in by some kindly and elderly farmers...who just so happen to be massive potheads that get high on the Highlands and become instant fans of his colorful persona.  The spirited humor is built up strongly around this in the film, especially for the manner all of the kids manage to find themselves in one indescribably horrific set of circumstances after another, which is made all the more funny because of how unendingly naive they all are (Doff gets awfully creative in the introductory stages of these characters in terms of unleashing a series of rapid fire edited montages that highlight all of their school indiscretions, with most of them involving setting fecal matter on fire in bathrooms).  There also a few uproarious recurring sight gags, especially one involving one of the boys sporting an ultra sharp...fork...as a weapon of choice, not to mention one runaway school van whose very presence at various inopportune moments scores some of the film's best laughs 

Of course, GET DUKED! generates most of its comedic momentum with its most dangerous game premise and the appearance Izzard's smugly condescending and drolly arrogant antagonist, one who's about as convinced about his supreme righteous to hunt and kill children as Beatroot is that he's a rap messiah.  Mixed in with this are some outlandishly innovative hallucination sequences showing many characters at various stages of being in a drug induced stupor (Doff crafts some psychedelic montages of freakishly hypnotic power).  Of course, mixed in with all of the rowdy vulgarity, incessant tomfoolery, and a surprising amount of rampant gore and violence on display is some rather pointed social commentary about the nature of class divide between the haves and have nots.  I would probably say that some of the would-be razor sharp satire contained with GET DUKED! is a bit too on the nose for my tastes, which probably stems from the fact that there's simply so much aggressive preposterousness permeating through the film that when it wants to slow down and get sincere with its commentary about the cruelness of violent class divide in society it doesn't have any lasting and harsh potency.  GET DUKED! probably would have worked even better if it just honed in more on the unbridled zaniness of its premise and story as opposed to trying to make larger statements on issues it obviously doesn't take seriously. 

Maybe the brief running time here has something to do with that as well.  At just under 90 minutes, GET DUKED! doesn't have a lot of time on its hands to tell much of a multi-themed narrative.  Plus, it builds towards a raucous climax that can kind of be seen from a mile away (the evildoers are dispatched, the once shy kid gets some much needed respect from his peers that once disliked him...and so on).  Having said all of that, I was so utterly taken in with the whole free-spirited wackiness on display here that I'm willing to overlook some of those nitpicks.  GET DUKED! has such an engaging madcap vitality about it, and it's a comedy that admirably and confidently swings for the fences for laughs (the best comedies, in my mind, are unafraid of trying anything for a well earned chuckle, that even when they fail you have to admire their chutzpah).  This film also oddly reminded me of the somewhat similar plotted THE HUNT from earlier this year, one that also tried to amalgam psychological horror, absurd comedy, and satire together in its tale of man hunting man for sport.  Both films lack a razor sharp satiric bite, but where GET DUKED! is clearly the superior effort is on a level of wild eyed, crafty showmanship.  And it's way more outrageously funny.  Plus, a small dosage of D.J. Beatroot dropping sick rhymes with a legion of stoned out of their mind farmers goes an awfully long way too. 

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