Chris Nashawaty
June 23, 2016 AT 12:00 PM EDT

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
PG-13
runtime
101 minutes
release date
06/24/16
performer
Sam Neill, Julian Dennison
director
Taika Waititi
genre
Adventure, Comedy, Drama

We gave it an B-

The New Zealand writer-director Taika Waititi specializes in a unique strain of deadpan absurdity that can be a bit of an acquired taste. When it works, it really works. When it doesn’t, well, the crickets can be deafening. His latest, the Kiwi coming-of-age comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople, falls somewhere in between. Best known for his work on HBO’s brilliant Flight of the Conchords and his sharp 2015 vampire spoof What We Do in the Shadows, Waititi has earned enough fans in high places that he was recently handed a gigantic sack of Marvel money to make the next Thor installment, which should definitely be interesting if nothing else. In the meantime, there’s the off-kilter tale of Ricky Baker—a round, smart-ass wannabe gangsta (played by Julian Dennison) who moves in with a foster family deep in the bush and winds up on the lam from Child Services with his Crocodile Dundee-like “uncle” (Sam Neill, behind a shaggy beard). Dennison juggles foulmouthed brattiness and sweet sincerity well enough, and Neill soars as a gruff outdoorsman hiding a soft, chewy center. But the film is maddeningly uneven. Just as it starts to settle into an inspired groove, it uncorks a couple of gags that fall lethally flat, making for half of a great comedy. B–

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