The Death of Dick Long balances hilarious black comedy with surprisingly empathetic drama, even as its central mystery takes some wild turns.
What happens when tragedy befalls a group of Alabama rednecks one night while, as one of them puts it, getting "weird" after band practice - where they stumbled through a barely competent cover of Staind's "It's Been A While"? The Death of Dick Long unravels an exceptionally wild tale of two men put in an increasingly high-pressure situation, and all the stupid decisions they make to hide the truth and avoid consequences. The Death of Dick Long comes from director Daniel Scheinert, one half of the directing duo behind 2016's Swiss Army Man, and writer Billy Chew (The Gleam). The Death of Dick Long balances hilarious black comedy with surprisingly empathetic drama, even as its central mystery takes some wild turns.
The Death of Dick Long follows Zeke Olsen (Michael Abbott Jr.) and his friend Earl Wyeth (Andre Hyland), who dump their badly injured friend Dick Long (Scheinert) at the local hospital's emergency room after a long night of drinking, smoking weed, setting off fireworks, and shooting guns in a haze of vape smoke, though it's not clear until halfway through the movie what exactly caused Dick's fatal injuries. Zeke does his best to hide the events of the night from his wife, Lydia (Virginia Newcomb), and their daughter Cynthia (Poppy Cunningham), covering up the bloody back seat of his car with a blanket that quickly soaks through. Meanwhile, Earl plans to skip town, blundering through excuses about family emergencies to his neighbor Lake (Sunita Mani). However, when word spreads through the small Alabama town that someone's been murdered - with Sheriff Spenser (Janelle Cochrane) and Officer Dudley (Sarah Baker) on the case - Zeke and Earl both grow increasingly more panicked about their secret getting out, leading to much of the madcap fun and tense thrills in The Death of Dick Long.
The first half of the movie unravels as a kind of whodunnit mystery, encouraging the audience to put the clues together even as the town's own police force can't seem to make the obvious connections - though the eventual revelation about Dick's true cause of death will still undoubtedly take most viewers by surprise. Watching Zeke and Earl badly attempt to cover up what happened, making mistakes that anyone who's seen a police procedural knows to avoid, is actually quite engrossing and entertaining - and Scheinert's directing reassures viewers they can and should be laughing at the doltish rednecks. There's a callous mockery to the way Chew writes and Scheinert portrays the characters in The Death of Dick Long, not only in the stupidity of Zeke and Earl, but in the bumbling police officers as well. It's clear the audience is meant to feel superior over Zeke, Earl and Officer Dudley in their intelligence, and laugh as the characters blunder through the events of the film. For the most part, it works, and the movie is enjoyable, but when boiled down to its essence, it's not the most sophisticated comedy - though that is perhaps the point.
Where The Death of Dick Long struggles a bit is in the second half of the film, after the revelation of how Dick died (in a searingly acted scene from Abbott Jr. and Newcomb). Once the mystery aspect of the whodunnit is solved, The Death of Dick Long is left with exploring the implications of Dick's death and what consequences - if any - Zeke and Earl face. Unfortunately, Chew's script and Scheinert's direction aren't as deft here, as it becomes increasingly unclear what the movie is trying to say, if anything at all. There's still a tenseness to the film, as the police work to figure everything out long after it's been explained to the audience, but the stakes wind up being not quite as high as Scheinert would have had the audience believe. In the end, The Death of Dick Long bumbles its way through the final act just as poorly as its characters blunder through the mystery of Dick's death.
That's not to say The Death of Dick Long isn't wholly enjoyable, because it is. It simply isn't quite as sophisticated as it may want its viewers to think it is. Again, that may be the point Scheinert and Chew are trying to make, but even if it is, it's not clear enough or nuanced enough for the viewer. Even still, The Death of Dick Long is a raucously funny black comedy, that draws on both redneck stereotypes and true crime stories alike for laughs. The movie is perhaps best enjoyed if audiences go in without knowing what to expect, since they're sure to be pleasantly surprised by the sincere performances of Abbott Jr., Hyland and Newcomb, as well as the directions the story takes. Ultimately, The Death of Dick Long is a madcap, hilarious romp through the strange circumstances surrounding the death of a man in a small Alabama town - just don't try to think about it too hard.
The Death of Dick Long is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 100 minutes long and rated R for pervasive language, disturbing sexual material and brief drug use.
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- The Death of Dick Long (2019) release date: Sep 27, 2019