After about 10 minutes, The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter feels borderline promising. After 80, it feels like a blown opportunity. This is becoming a bit of a pattern over at Netflix’s original movies division. They whip open their bottomless checkbooks, sign up some really talented people (in this case Josh Brolin and the Eastbound & Down duo of Danny McBride and director Jody Hill), and then get stuck with their second- or third-tier ideas. How is this company making money again exactly?
The shame of it all is that Brolin can’t not be good even in mediocre movies, and McBride can’t help but be funny especially in a redneck sidekick role. But the film is so poorly paced and slight and tonally all over the map, that its one joke can’t keep it afloat for more than length of a sitcom. Worse, it can’t decide if it wants to fully satirize American gun culture or half-ass it, embracing a locked-and-loaded rifle as the most effective way to bridge the gap between an estranged father and son. In addition to a better story, it could’ve used a spine.
I suppose Brolin was due for a disappointment at some point this summer. He’s been riding high with Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2, and Sicario: Day of the Soldado. No one’s invincible. Even so, he does manage to flash brief glimmers of a sly subversive streak as Buck Ferguson — a rootin’ tootin’ good-ol’-boy deer hunter who’s become famous for his macho wilderness videos. He’s like a camo-clad cross between Bear Grylls and the Duck Dynasty guys with a dopey dash of Elmer Fudd tossed in. His motto is: “I’ve seen the best, and I’ve killed the best.”
As targets go, Buck is a pretty neon-colored one. But Brolin gets you on his side by showing his fraying relationship with his sixth-grade son Jaden (Montana Jordan). Jaden lives with Buck’s ex (Carrie Coon) and her boyfriend (Scoot McNairy) and he’s more interested in his girlfriend and his smartphone than his dad. So Buck decides to take him along on a deer hunting trip which his dim, trusty cameraman Don (McBride) will edit into the greatest episode of Buck Fever yet. Needless to say, it doesn’t end up being the “very special” heartwarming father-son bonding experience he expects.
There are a handful of laugh-out-loud scenes (mostly courtesy of McBride), but The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter, like so many other Netflix movies, feels like a first draft that still could use some more punching up and focus. Maybe the streaming studio is in such a rush to feed its yawning content pipeline that “just okay” is good enough. And, who knows, maybe it is. But it would be nice if at some point the words “Netflix original movies” meant more than just quantity, but quality as well. C+