‘Get Duked!’ Needs to Get Back to Basics

by Warren Cantrell on August 27, 2020

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Down]

Premieres on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, August 28.

Yet another failed attempt at the hunting humans for sport genre, Get Duked! has style to spare, yet little in the way of story, stakes, world building, or character development. A quick-cut assault on the senses brimming with flashbacks and text overlays, the film feels like an 85-minute TikTok with all the visual flairs of an accomplished filmmaker mixed with the maturity and forethought of a 14-year-old’s script. Rooted in a simple enough premise with plenty of narrative runway, Get Duked! has little to say and even less to do once it figures that out, opting to just tease at a few themes and genres rather than develop any set of them with anything resembling forethought or nuance.  

Writer/director Ninian Doff does a decent job setting the table for his film, establishing the fictional ‘Duke of Edinburgh Challenge’ as a volunteer youth activity for Scottish teenagers looking to pad their college applications (or stay out of trouble). This year’s crop of boys consists of a trio of rabblerousing delinquents who go by Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan (Lewis Gribben), and DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja), along with studious try-hard Ian (Samuel Bottomley). With map in hand and some vague instructions about where the four are supposed to go, the boys are told they must trek across the Scottish Highlands for two days and one night while learning about foraging, navigation, and of course: teamwork.

While the three stooges have prepared little for the adventure, and care about its outcome even less, Ian is determined to see the challenge through and get his completion certificate. Things take a turn when a well-dressed gentleman in a mask (Eddie Izzard) approaches the boys with rifle in hand and talk of “culling the herd,” whereupon bullets start flying. Ominous music and a few visual hints like a board full of MISSING posters early on have primed the audience for this, though, so the turn towards hunting the teenagers for sport isn’t all that much of a surprise. What is a bit of a shock is how little bloodshed there is once the second act mayhem begins, as this is an R-rated movie, and there’s characters to spare, here.

Which is the first of many problems Get Duked! has, for this movie boasts nothing in the way of stakes or tension. None of the characters except for Ian are particularly likable, which seems like a choice since this appears to be some kind of slasher film, and that genre needs disposable assholes like an automobile needs gasoline. Doff’s script doesn’t give the audience any kind of a release in this regard, however, instead reinvesting in characters that don’t have any depth rather than whittling away at them. There’s some handwaving at class struggle vis a vis the elite hunting the poor, yet none of this ever comes together, and is further muddled by a couple of B-plots about inept country cops and hard-partying farmers with a taste for psychedelics.

So to re-cap, this is as a fish-out-of-water hunt-humans-for-sport thriller with deep-rooted concerns about the disenfranchised middle class that is buttressed by a wacky comedic undercurrent that never lets things get too scary. If that sounds like a jumbled, unfocused grab-bag of ideas, tones, and themes, it is because that’s precisely what’s on display, here. There are some fun storytelling choices early on that give the audience all the background that is needed for the four leads via clever flashback editing, yet none of that creative energy is directed towards the larger conflict and what Izzard’s character is meant to represent by way of the movie’s villainy.   

There are a couple of funny moments, most involving DJ Beatroot and his quest to become world famous, yet again, it feels like it belongs in a different film (or in a drastically re-cut version of this one). There’s a distinct Edgar Wright influence here that’s pushing for a genre hybridization that just never comes together in this one, hard as it tries at times. Mixing zombies with a rom-com, or English murder mysteries with Michael Bay aesthetics is a fun albeit difficult balancing act to pull off, and if anyone needed evidence at how hard this is they need look no further than this failed attempt to cross wooded slasher thrillers with a coming-of-age political awakening.

Which is a pity, really. Experimenting with genre and cross-pollinating cinematic tropes is a fun experiment, for when it works it can really pop. Any scientist can testify that there’s a thousand dead end experiments before a breakthrough is made, however, and Get Duked! appears to be a part of the “back to the drawing board” pile. Sadly, a few chuckles and a hefty dose of clever editing and animation can’t quite save this one, and while it is not complete “Shite” as the Scots are prone to say, it’s “a wee bit gowk.”

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and The Playlist. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing.

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