"The Most Dangerous Game" meets modern U.K. delinquent culture in the raucous indie black comedy "Get Duked!." Packed with energy, wit and hallucinogenic rabbit droppings, writer-director Ninian Doff's scrappy feature debut is better and sweeter than the gimmick and aggressive title suggests. It's a sort of spiritual companion to Edgar Wright's Cornetto trilogy, blending horror and thriller elements with absurdist comedy.
In the film, four boys are dropped in the Scottish Highlands to compete for the Duke of Edinburgh Award (a lovely laminated certificate, they're told) with only a map and their dim wits to guide them. Three of them, Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan (Lewis Gribben) and amateur rapper DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja) are already friends and city boys to the core — they are particularly dismayed to find out their smart phones have no service in the countryside. To them, the competition is a kind of detention and they seem perfectly content to stumble their way through the rolling hills aided by marijuana. But they have the misfortune of being grouped with another — the straight-laced, home-schooled Ian (Samuel Bottomley) who actually wants to be there and win by succeeding at teamwork, foraging and orienteering.
Distracted from the start, they miss the "missing kids" signs all over the place and accidentally wreck their map, but pretty soon they discover they have some bigger problems to deal with: They're being hunted by The Duke himself (played by a masked but unmistakable Eddie Izzard), who wishes to rid his society of undesirables and delinquents.
A run-in with a local farmer (James Cosmo, who seems to be having a great time) and a harried phone call to the police throws the sleepy community into chaos. The biggest threat to the people of the highlands up until now has been a bread thief (a gag which somehow keeps delivering) and the daffy cops (Kate Dickie and Kevin Guthrie) are delighted to tackle the ever-escalating situation. You might be surprised by how much you end up liking the leads and the supporting characters by the end.
Movies that got a good response at a midnight festival screening (as this did at South by Southwest last year) can sometimes be dicey gambles out in the real world when you remove the drinks and the barbecue and the energy of the crowd seeing something crazy for the first time. But "Get Duked!" plays just as well on a small screen with a small audience at home. Doff, a music video director by trade, has an in-your-face style and sensibility that keeps the engine of the film running well. The biggest disappointment is that there is not more Izzard.
American viewers might do well to turn on the subtitles, though — the fast-paced script can be a little overwhelming at times. This is a raucous, non-stop ride that is a little rough around the edges but also unexpectedly endearing, not unlike the four teens at the center.
"Get Duked!," an Amazon Video release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for "drug content, language throughout including sexual references, and some violence/bloody images." Running time: 87 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
MPAA Definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.