Put on your ‘bist’ Kiwi accent and strap in for one of the funniest comedies you’ll see all year with Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
Tossed from one crappy foster home to the next, 13-year-old Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a “bad egg”; a typical tearaway teen if ever there was one, Ricky is thrust to the periphery of civilisation when he’s sent to live on a remote New Zealand farm owned by tender foster mum Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her cantankerous husband Hector (Sam Neill). Despite attempting to ‘run away’ night after night (he barely makes it out of sight), Ricky soon finds his new home isn’t all that bad and soon settles into life on the farm.
However, one of Ricky’s forest forays soon turns into a national manhunt when ‘Uncle Hec’ reluctantly treks after him, breaks an ankle and the two are forced to lay-up in the deep, dense bushland for several weeks. Fearing that Hec has gone feral and whisked Ricky away against his will, child services worker Paula (Rachel House) and her goofy sidekick Officer Andy (Oscar Kightley) set out on a relentless pursuit of the duo, determined to reign Ricky in and throw the Hec behind bars.
Kiwi director Taika Waititi has become something of national hero in his home country of late, with a series of delightful productions that, Lord of the Rings aside, have put New Zealand on the metaphorical map. His work behind the camera on Boy and What We Do In The Shadows have earned him a cult following, and this latest hair-brained comedy is destined to recruit more avid followers to his crusade.
Dennison is a comedic revelation as Ricky; a terrible troublemaker who is has aspirations to be the Kiwi equivalent of 2pac. The timing on his line delivery is pretty much perfect and the youngster does more than just hold his own against seasoned actors like Neill. The two share an infectious chemistry that would be difficult to capture and impossible to buy. Likewise, Neill gives his funniest and most committed performance in years, clearly revelling at the chance to play such a fun and expressive character.
The film does dip into well-trodden tropes at times, but any narrative cul-de-sacs that Waititi encounters are niftily negotiated through his trademark energetic camerawork and a freewheeling approach to developing the central dynamic between Dennison and Neill. Simply put, Wilderpeople is the kind of the film that will have the audience rolling in the aisles, spewing laughter so loud and genuine that you’ll be struggling to hear the next six or seven gags; it’s the kind of film that is filled with such infectious effervescence that it scoots past any criticism you can lobby at the fairly straight-forward plot that sees a loveable scamp thaw the heart of a crusty old coot.
Soulless sceptics might tune out as the narrative strays further from the realm of possibility in an increasingly barmy third-act, but a warm script and a firm understanding of where these characters are going keeps the film anchored as the escalating chase steers dangerously close to straight-up spoof towards the end.
The Verdict: 8.5/10
At the end of the day, Hunt for the Wilderpeople will stir your soul just as much as it will tickle your ribs, and in an era where 90% of comedies fail to embrace the former, that’s a quality in short supply. A breakout performance from young Dennison is worth the entry price alone, but there are untold gems just waiting to be discovered once you delve deeper into this surprisingly heartfelt madcap comedy.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople opens in cinemas across Australia on Thursday May 26