Synopsis: Deep in the Scottish Highlands on a camping trip competition, four city boys try to escape a mysterious huntsman while the police trail behind, failing to provide assistance.
Stars: Eddie Izzard, Kate Dickie, James Cosmo, Kevin Guthrie, Jonathan Aris, Alice Lowe, Samuel Bottomley, Viraj Juneja, Rian Gordon, Lewis Gribben, Brian Pettifer, Georgie Glen
Director: Ninian Doff
Running Length: 87 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: A fun bit of movie trivia that always interests me is finding out the original titles of films that either went into production under a different name or saw their title get changed after their original festival run. Most of the time, the change is for the better. Would we still be talking about Alien today if it had been released as Star Beast? How about imagining seeing Charlize Theron in Coldest City instead of Atomic Blonde? Would Julia Roberts star turn in Pretty Woman had the same seismic impact if it came out as 3000? Don’t even get me started with Warner Brothers desperately trying to get Tim Burton to swap out Beetlejuice for their preferred alternate House Ghosts.
A few months back, I reviewed and recommended The Shadow of Violence which was previously released and seen in its early film festival runs as the more interesting Calm with Horses and this week sees the debut of another film on Prime Video that’s had a title swap on its way to a wide release. Filmed originally as Boyz in the Woods, Amazon Studios picked up the film after it played well at last year’s South by Southwest Film Festival and promptly gave it a new name. While Get Duked! leans into the more playful aspects the viewing experience has to offer and steers clear from sounding like a sketchy film you may not want showing up in your queue, it also exposes some of the problems at the forefront of the movie that’s about as one-joke as they come.
Prior to firing Get Duked! up I had no awareness of the The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award which was started a half-century ago by the Queen’s husband and meant to attract youth that hadn’t yet found their group/club to join. Designed to promote participation in volunteering, physical fitness, and an expedition to achieve the top rank, it has spread through more than a hundred countries since its inception. So…clearly, it’s a big deal. I’d imagine also, at least based on writer/director Ninian Doff’s wacky screenplay, it’s a program that draws some level of ribbing because the jokes at play in Get Duked! feel remarkably on pointe and specifically taking aim at several organizations throughout.
Doff gets things off on the right foot by staging an enjoyably cheeky first 1/3 that introduces us to the three slacker mates forced into participation for The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award by their teacher Mr. Carlyle (Jonathan Arias, Vivarium) and the one nerd-ish lad who was more than eager to volunteer. While the three are hoping to find cell phone reception and a place to get high the moment the adult is out of sight, Ian, the sweet-natured fourth (Samuel Bottomley, Ghost Stories), just wants to make new friends and end the weekend with the Duke’s prize to top it off. Ian learns quickly that Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan (Lewis Gribben) and William aka DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja) have no outdoor experience (or many brain cells) and rely on him to get them through the terrain toward their final destination.
The four have more to worry about than mossy rocks and spoiled haggis though, because what they don’t know at first is that they’re the new prey for hunters out to “cull the herd” of the misspent youth in society and this weekend will be more about survival than they could have ever imagined. Who is hunting them is a mystery that is solved fairly quickly – it’s a rather famous royal played by Eddie Izzard (The High Note) who has an even more famous wife as his accomplice. At the same time, the local police led by Sergeant Morag (Kate Dickie, Prometheus) are attempting to apprehend a local bread thief (no joke) and somehow manage to get tangled up in the boys flight from their hunters, which only complicates matters in oddly decreasingly funny ways. The more that Doff’s screenplay brings these disparate characters together, the funnier it should get, but to me it became less and less interesting instead. It’s never as crackling as it is in those first 40 minutes and even brief moments of fun (a musical moment featuring DJ Beatroot and a crowd of blissed out country folk is gold) can’t quite drag the film back into alignment.
Now, I’m sure Get Duked! is going to play to crowds looking for that fun Friday night comedy like gangbusters and maybe it’s my problem for watching it on a late afternoon early in the week. It’s one that has a bit of a party vibe to it, one that allows you to be distracted from the one-joke premise that gets old quickly and can’t hide that the endeavor would have worked better as a short or part of a larger anthology. It must be said, though, that there’s no shortage of style or creativity in filmmaking and performers, especially Juneja as a freestyle rapper with flow but no show, are great. Yet I never fully found myself loving it and that began to nag at me after awhile because it reminded me a lot of better movies like Shaun of the Dead, The World’s End, or Hot Fuzz. Unlike those films, Get Duked! has a one-joke premise that it sticks to, for better or for worse.