South Park got old. Hell, it even admitted it. More to the point, while it has taken various stances over the years (anti-religion, anti-sacred cows, anti-taking climate change seriously – whoops), there was always an undertone of “LOL nothing matters,” and the assumption that only nerds care about political outcomes. It’s a very 90s, Gen-Xer stereotype version of what it’s like to be a counterculturalist, and this is perhaps why Trey Parker and Matt Stone speak more frequently through the grown-up characters in the newer seasons. I have no idea what the kids are up to these days (apart from taking climate change seriously, whoops), but I know that millennial political cynicism tends to be a bit more outcome-oriented than its immediate predecessors. While I could heap pattern-recognition compliments onto Scottish, 1982-born music video director Ninian Doff‘s debut feature, which is at times reminiscent of both Edgar Wright and more obscure hip-hop insanity like Bodied or Patti Cake$, its tone, which manages to maintain remarkable consistency even as the film leapfrogs from horror to comedy to self-serious classist satire, feels most profanely and offensively reminiscent of the boys from Colorado. Just…a bit more fresh, because its satire seems to stem from a sincere belief that everything might not just keep bumbling along in the same way no matter how much you get worked up about it.
The story begins with a trio of troublemakers, Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan MacDonald (Lewis Gribben), and DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja), whose chosen moniker might just be a shit DJ name (they all are, William, don’t you worry), but whose posh surname and ivy-laden high street address is a consistent source of mockery by his best mates. Joining them for the first time is Ian (Samuel Bottomley), a basically ordinary and well-meaning kid who wants to do well on the outdoor adventure program in the Scottish Highlands that they’ve all been signed up for – for the three delinquents, as a last chance at respectability and accomplishment by their headmaster, and for hapless Ian, by his mother, who is concerned by his lack of activities and social connections. That program is the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, an outdoor-oriented youth program (reminiscent of the Scout movement, also founded by landed British gentry). To earn the award, the boys are left in the Scottish Highlands by their teacher, Mr. Carlyle (Jonathan Aris), and immediately hunted for sport by The Duke (Eddie Izzard) and his wife The Duchess (Georgie Glen). So immediately, in fact, that I’m not going to trouble to hide that plot detail, since the movie spends much of its first 15 minutes plastered with sight gags announcing its intentions toward the horror genre so explicitly that I was half-expecting a Cabin in the Woods-style genre deconstruction. But the basic idea (as laid out in the first of many visually stunning animated sequences seamlessly intercut into the film) is that the boys must navigate their way through several valleys and fields and craggy hills down to the coast, where they will collect the award, but only if they manage a collective achievement in Teamwork, Orienteering, Foraging, and…a few other soft skills.
The best thing I can say about these four boys is that my favorite of them fluctuated over the course of the film, which is usually a sign of a well-balanced cast. They each have their moments of depth, apart from Duncan, the goofball, tank, and arsonist of the group, who is a pure comic foil and does not contain multitudes. The most interesting character may be Dean, son of a fish cannery worker, who gradually lets slip that he expects to amount to nothing more than a lifelong stint in the same blue-collar trade as his father, and he sure would love it if society would get all the way off his back about chasing achievements that he doesn’t believe he ever had a chance at in the first place. When Ian, and even Willi- *sigh* DJ Beatroot talk about their home life, it’s clear that they have some sort of ambition beyond the circumstances of their upbringing, even if in Beatroot’s case it seems borderline delusional. But Dean thinks he fully understands himself already, and is basically okay with who he is. Until the moment that he isn’t. And for however profanely these boys talk to each other, or whatever anger or jealousy might be stewing within the group dynamics over the course of the film, all three of these little hellions are basically trying to be decent to each other. They’re not even that mean to the new kid, and even offer to share their dubious drugs with him. There are a lot of drugs in this film, none of them in familiar forms, and all a bit explosive and/or hallucinogenic, which leads to further wonky visuals as characters’ bodies are deconstructed to the raucous beats of one of Beatroot’s…annoyingly good hip-hop jams, most of which are on the subject of his dick.
Eddie Izzard‘s Duke is a walking, shooting, slow-motion exposition-bot, who is happy to explain his simplistic and paternalistic ideology of culling the weakest (and poorest) members of the herd at length before wildly firing his rifle near the boys. And while Izzard fully justifies his presence (and executive producer credit) by the film’s end, he starts on that path at the halfway point when he and the Duchess join a psychedelic musical round with barely comprehensible choral chanting about maintaining the respectable trappings of empire as they prepare an attempted ritualistic murder of one of the boys. Then the Scottish cavalry arrives, and the curtain falls on their little caper. I won’t reveal what exactly I mean by that (James Cosmo is involved), but I’ll tell you what I did not need, and what the film itself has very little use or patience for, is the police. It would be easy to look at bumbling Scottish police Sergeant Morag (Kate Dickie) and PC Hamish (Kevin Guthrie) as pure buffoons, as they attempt to make sense of each rumor and whisper of the film’s plot by sliding another extravagant charge onto the big chore board at the police bureau (“PAEDOPHILE”, “TERRORIST”, and “ZOMBIE” each make an appearance). But this entire grating subplot is finally justified by the glorious appearance of the unnamed police superintendent (Alice Lowe), who gives a rousing battle speech on the need of these bumbling hillbillies to stop chasing a wholly confabulated urban gang (which Hamish identifies, on the radio, without a shred of evidence apart from his own racism, as 15-20 black males wearing hooded tops), down from London just to fuck with their unenviable backwater…and get back to solving the important crimes, like the fugitive bread thief, which was their #1 unsolved case before the film began. The film’s point that these cops would do nothing to help the situation was made after about 30 seconds of watching them, and during each of the other cop scenes, I was mostly just waiting to get back to the A-plot. But this is a minor complaint. I must emphasize, I am not being sarcastic here – the superintendent’s speech is a stellar comic moment, and it very nearly justifies the rest.
I can’t say much more here without giving the game away, and what a great game it is. While you may feel as if you’ve been served a pile of hallucinogenic rabbit fodder by the film’s end, you won’t come away wondering for a moment what it was all for.
FilmWonk rating: 7.5 out of 10
Get Duked! is available starting today, 8/28, on Prime Video.