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Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, The Thing 

TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL

***

At this late date, "smart slasher flick" might seem like an oxymoron, but Tucker & Dale vs. Evil isn't your typical slasher flick. Instead, it's a cleverly plotted gem that uproots the whole genre in a manner that's both savvy and satisfying.
While assembly-line movies like Final Destination 5 and Saw 3D: The Final Chapter open on approximately 3,000 screens and gross tens of millions of dollars, here's this poor little film, which opened in a scant 30 theaters and to date has grossed just slightly above $100,000.

Yet it's a godsend for anyone looking for something different in their horror-film diet, and even folks who generally shy away from gorefests will appreciate the dark humor, surprising plot pirouettes and, most shockingly, developed characterizations. What's more, film fans who believe there's no way they could ever cheer for rednecks (a lifetime of Deliverance and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre will do that to a person) will sheepishly smirk as they find themselves rooting for the rubes holding center stage here.

In time-honored tradition, a group of college kids heads to the mountains (in the South, natch) for a weekend getaway, only to cross paths with two shuffling backwoods hicks. They're fearful of these good ole boys, not realizing that, despite their verbal inefficiency and apparent lack of hygiene, Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) wouldn't even harm a fly.

In fact, they even save one of the collegians, a blonde beauty named Allison (Katrina Bowden), after she almost drowns, taking her back to their dilapidated cabin so she can recuperate. The other kids, however, assume the worst ("I think I saw one of them eating her face!"), and the heightened miscommunication between the two factions eventually results in corpses canvassing the woods.

T&DvE isn't one of those dreadful spoofs that merely take random pot shots at recent films, hoping something sticks (e.g. Vampires Suck, Epic Movie). Instead, writer-director Eli Craig (Sally Field's son!) and cowriter Morgan Jurgenson obviously engaged in some late-night sessions of careful genre deconstruction, breaking down the foundation of the slasher film before rebuilding it with shrewdly added satiric elements in place.

Thus, the iconic image of Leatherface swinging his Texas chainsaw over his head here gets reconfigured as Tucker wildly waving his chainsaw because he's trying to escape from a hornet's nest. And Dale isn't leering at Allison because he's deranged; it's due to the fact that he's tongue-tied, having never spoken to someone as purty as her before.

And so it goes. Running just shy of 90 minutes, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil keeps its wits about it almost until the end -- admittedly, the denouement is a bit sloppy, rushing to wrap everything up. But the actors are game (Labine stands out as the sensitive Dale), the laughs are plentiful, and the wood chipper stays busy.

THE THING

**

The summer of 1982 found audiences so enamored with a little fellow named E.T. that they ignored two other science fiction flicks that have since been recognized as classics of the genre. One, of course, is Ridley Scott's Blade Runner; the other is John Carpenter's The Thing, the second adaptation of John W. Campbell Jr.'s short story "Who Goes There?" (the first being 1951's The Thing from Another World).

Based on the title, one would assume that this new version is, like fellow weekend opener Footloose, a remake, but that's not the case. The 2011 model of The Thing is actually a prequel to the 1982 film, leading one to wonder why they didn't more accurately name it The Thing: The Beginning, The Thing: The Early Days or even I Was a Teenage Thing.

Whatever its moniker, this new endeavor is, like many prequels, a movie that adds little to the conversation, filling in details that audiences frankly didn't care to discover. The '82 edition opened with the evil alien invader, in the guise of a dog, escaping from a pair of Norwegians stationed at an Antarctic research station and into the safety of a nearby American camp. This new version backtracks to show how the Norwegians first came across the frozen creature, and how, after it thawed, they soon discovered its frightful ability to perfectly absorb and replicate any life form, including themselves.

Mindful of the fact that U.S. audiences wouldn't shell out to watch a bunch of no-name actors speak in a foreign tongue, Universal Pictures and scripter Eric Heisserer (who also penned the dreadful A Nightmare on Elm Street reboot) helpfully added an American and an Australian to the cast and decreed that all but one of the Norwegians would speak English.

And to grab that female demographic (the '82 film was a boys-only club), they also made the Yankee a woman in the form of paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). That actually turns out to be a decent decision, since Winstead (best known as Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) makes for a solid and sympathetic heroine. Unfortunately, she's about the only one afforded a personality; that's a far cry from Carpenter's take, in which all of the characters were unique individuals.

The visual effects and makeup designs by Rob Bottin (The Howling) in the '82 version offended many critics with their gruesomeness, but the rest of us were astonished by the imagination that went into them, particularly since this was before the advent of CGI. To his credit, this new film's director, Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., also employs some hands-on FX-building in addition to the expected CGI, but with little variation in the (sometimes laughable) designs -- and since they're in the service of a movie that only sporadically grabs us on a gut level -- The Thing turns out to be much ado about nothing.

 

 

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