Movie Review: Sordid sins of the rural South cause “The Death of Dick Long”

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We can safely assume, from the way Dick Long’s two cover-bandmates dump him in the emergency room parking lot, that the night got plumb out of hand.

We saw the “Pink Freud” band rehearsal earlier, the booze and weed and pranks that followed.

And of course we’ve noticed the film’s title, “The Death of Dick Long.” This story isn’t going to end well for old Dick.

But nothing, no urban legends about the rural South spread in the contemptuous North, no Alabama jokes, can prepare us for what put Dick Long there.

This is no “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil” remimagined as “Tucker & Dale ARE Evil.” It’s dark, and rarely what anybody could call “darkly funny.” It’s a redneck noir thriller, mostly concerned with incompetent criminals involved in a cover-up, and obese, slothful cops “waitin’ for sometin’ that just falls into our laps” to put it all together.

But if it’s not funny, when it could have been, not the thriller it wants to be and and not particularly satisfying in either case, “The Death of Dick Long” still manages to be suspenseful, a rare outing in that subgenre of Southern Fried Film Noir we call “Cracker Gothic.”

Michael Abbott is Zeke and Andre Hyland is Earl, tone-deaf beer-drinkers who’ve been playing together forever, probably never in public. And when the third member of their Power Trio winds up bleeding out in the back of Zeke’s Taurus wagon, they’ve got a choice to make — together.

“Are you gonna help me, or you want to go to jail?”

They’ve got to keep Zeke’s wife (Virginia Newcomb) in the dark. They’ve got to get Zeke’s chatty pre-tween (Poppy Cunningham) to school, without her seeing the stains in the back seat or the blood that’s gotten on her favorite jumper when Daddy “Never Learned to do the Laundry” makes a hash of things.

Earl shows off his poker face when his flirty trailer park neighbor (Sunita Mani) asks him a dozen innocent questions about what he’s loading all this junk into his pick-em up truck for, where he’s headed and who he is going with.

“What’d y’all do, knock over a bank?”

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Dick’s wife (Jess Weixler of “It Chapter 2”) is wondering where her man is, if he’s out cheating.

The doddering sheriff (Janelle Cochrane) should be no cause for concern. She’s got a cane and little in the way of urgency of Margo from “Fargo” (the movie, of course) crime-solving skills. Her indolent, convenience-store donuts-loving deputies include a younger version of her (Sarah Baker), new to the force, anxious to get home to a quiche which “the missus” has whipped up.

Probably the wrong person to joke to about how “gay” the station wagon, which Zeke reports stolen, made him feel while driving.

“I guess we didn’t totally think that through.”

That kind of goes for the movie, unfortunately. The suspense that builds as our idiot criminals try to fiigure out how long they can elude our idiot cops works.

The big twist in the crime is head-snapping.

But there’s a sense that the mere creation of the characters, the setting and the crime is enough to get audiences to laugh. Maybe there’ll be some of that, in cities far removed from the South. It’s so half-assed nobody familiar with the region will giggle, or even grimace.

And the third act is borderline catostrophic, with an ending that feels neither natural nor earned.

The women are the red letter performers here, with Newcomb (“Jumanji”) showing Lydia, her character’s fire and fury, veteran character actress Baker playing up the slow-at-math but able to put two and two together Officer Dudley and Weixler bringing pathos to a woman who doesn’t know where her husband, Dick Long, is.

And might not want to know, when push comes to shove.

But there’s more to a dark comedy than a really dark crime, more to a thriller than a slo-motion pursuit and more to the rural South than arch, slow redneck stereotypes.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, disturbing sexual material, and brief drug use

Cast: Michael Abbott Jr., Virginia Newcomb, Andre Hyland, Jess Weixler, Sarah Baker, Janelle Cochrane and Roy Wood, Jr.

Credits: Directed by Daniel Scheinert, script by Billy Chew.  An A24 release.

Running time: 1:40

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