Birmingham, Alabama director Daniel Scheinert serves up a hilarious version of redneck hell in his dramatic comedy The Death of Dick Long. The man who brought you Daniel Radcliffe’s flatulent corpse in Swiss Army Man has set out to up his game, and he has succeeded.
Zeke Olson (Michael Abbott Jr.) and Earl Wyeth (Andre Hyland) are the methed-out Bill and Ted of rural Alabama: Confederate flag waving, PBR drinking, pickup truck driving back-country idiots. They are best friends with Dick Long until one night after “band” practice (mostly classic rock, they are terrible, and they cover Nickelback) Earl asks Zeke and Dick if they want to get weird. These boys know how to party, and they take horsing around to a professional level.
There are a series of quick cuts as they smoke up, drink, shoot guns, and then, without explanation, driving Zeke’s station wagon with Dick unconscious in the back seat bleeding profusely. They drop him off in the driveway of a local ER, grab his wallet so he can’t be identified, and make a mad dash into the woods. Doctor Richter (Roy Wood Jr.) sees the body in the driveway and scrambles to bring him in, but alas, Dick cannot be saved. The trio is now a duo, and we must assume Dick had been the brains of the operation.
“…Confederate flag waving, PBR drinking, pickup truck driving back-country idiots.”
The rest of the movie boils down to Zeke and Earl versus smarter, no bullshit women trying to figure what the hell happened and where Dick is. Zeke’s wife and young daughter, Dick’s wife, and two female police officers are all suspicious. Zeke and Earl are outmatched and outsmarted at every turn. Admittedly, the bar is pretty low.
There’s a twist in the middle of the film that changes the whole vibe. If you have a remote, you’ll hit pause and “WTF” for a minute before going on. Scheinert drops the perfect mix of disgusting and funny (and disgusting).
How you feel about this film may depend partly on where you see it and where you’re from. Scheinert walks the fine line between painting the drug-addled moron twins as objects of ridicule and portraying Southern culture that way. The first is funny, the second is fighting words. If you’re a Southerner seeing the film outside the South, you’ll feel too much family business is being discussed outside the home. Southerners can make fun of the South (and do, mercilessly) but you better not. Officer Dudley (Sarah Baker) and Sheriff Spencer (Janelle Cochrane) come awfully close to crossing into offensive caricature. The fact that they are both smart and savvy (at least for their particular postal code) redeems the characters. Also, Dudley is gay, so she’s cool (it’s a nice touch, but also pandering).
“As dumb as the main characters are, the film itself is very clever…”
All of the cast deliver sparkling performances. Michael Abbott Jr. plays Zeke as the perfect clueless stoner who is also the worst liar on earth, but top acting kudos go to Andre Hyland as Earl. He nails the character as a constantly vaping, word salad spewing, tweaker country cousin. He’s so good it’s cringe-inducing.
The comedic beats in the film are offset by a balance of heavy drama. Earl and Zeke are in very deep and how bad it’s going to go for them comes to light slowly as the tale rolls out. Scheinert adroitly conveys both the pathos and the humor of the situation. As dumb as the main characters are, the film itself is very clever.
The Death of Dick Long (2019) Directed by Daniel Scheinert. Written by Billy Chew. Starring Michael Abbott Jr., Virginia Newcomb, Andre Hyland. The Death of Dick Long screened at the 2019 San Francisco International Film Festival.
8 out of 10