In one very specific way I felt a lot like Josh Brolin’s Buck Ferguson. Where he was looking for the elusive monster whitetail deep in the Appalachians, I was looking for the untapped potential in his movie. I looked everywhere, waited patiently, and after 83 minutes it never came. Well, not completely.
As that bad metaphor falls apart in your mind, let me put it a bit clearer. “The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter” has so much potential. Pieces are there for a rib-splitting indie classic (and that’s no overstatement). Unfortunately it never quite gets out of first gear. It’s also trapped in a swirling vortex of ideas and identities. Is it a full-blown comedy? Is it a moving character study? Is it a coming-of-age story? A movie can certainly be all of the above, but central to its success is that they work in harmony, at least in some capacity. That just isn’t the case at all here.
The architects are Jody Hill and Danny McBride of HBO’s “Eastbound & Down” fame. They co-write the script along with John Carcieri, Hill directs, and McBride plays a supporting role. Fans may have a good idea of what to expect, but as someone with little connection to their collaborations, they weren’t the biggest draw for me. Instead it was Josh Brolin and his seemingly perfect fit as Buck Ferguson, a whitetail enthusiast who makes VHS quality deer hunting videos for a living (believe it or not, for a time those things were fairly popular).
Fresh off of a divorce Buck envisions a whitetail deer hunt as an opportunity to mend his relationship with his 12-year-old son Jaden (Montana Jordan). For Buck, killing your first Whitetail is like a rite of passage and he has grown deeply concerned that if his son doesn’t “take to it now he might not ever”. With his loyal cameraman Don (McBride) in tow, the three venture deep into the beautiful Appalachian Mountains in search of what Buck calls the monster “non-typical” (for the uninitiated that mean a huge whitetail deer).
The problem is Jaden has no real interest in deer hunting or being in the woods with his father. He’s much more into Wi-Fi signals, Panini, and checking in with his girlfriend Caroline back home. This not only stymies Buck’s hopes of bonding, but also his plans to shoot a father-and-son episode for his “Buck Fever” series. So again I mention the pieces are here for a ‘good ol’ boy’ southern-fried comedy.
Unfortunately “Whitetail” is only an occasionally funny satire. I kind of see what Hill and McBride are shooting for (no pun intended), but it’s never silly enough, never thoughtful enough, or even clever enough to land with much conviction. And the character treatments aren’t much better. Take McBride’s wildly inconsistent Don character. One minute he is a loyal and sympathetic sidekick only to act disgusting two scenes later. I’m sure giving a 12-year-old drags off his cigarette and showing him pornographic Polaroids will be funny for some. I found it to be jarring both with the tone of movie and the character himself. Young Montana Jordan fares a little better although he is never as funny as the movie wants him to be.
Thankfully we get Josh Brolin, so superbly cast to play this ‘type’. Without a hint of parody and a ton of sincerity, Brolin is firm enough in his conviction to make Buck easily the movie’s funniest character. There is no winking at the camera, only commitment which is exactly what the character needs. He’s perfectly positioned for an off-the-rails wacky comedy but Hill never really goes for it. Ultimately Brolin can’t save the movie from spinning its wheels and feeling like a terribly missed opportunity. Not a horrible film, but a needlessly bland one.
VERDICT – 2.5 STARS