Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements including violent content, and for some language. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: June 24, 2016 Released by: The Orchard
Delightful, if formulaic summer counter programming packaging of fantasy/adventure comes in this Kiwi export with fine use of a rotating camera and splendid cinematography of a verdant New Zealand landscape.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a noticeable step up for writer/director Taika Waititi (could he be the next Lee Tamahori?) from Boy and (getting his Hollywood chance) helming a prominent 2017 Marvel Studios entry in his adroit modulation of story, characters and mood with appealing effervescent flair.
The recognizable thespian is Sam Neill as a grouchy, hesitant Uncle in Hec who along with very adorable and hospitably garrulous pig-roasting Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) welcome a rebellious orphan Ricky (Julian Dennison) who has frequented juvenile detention facilities but is given a last chance in a rural residence to turn his life around.
But, a series of weird, if unfortunate events lead to some absurd occurrences and Hec appreciative to be a father-figure to the pudgy, sassy Ricky as an affectionate bond develops. It happens that a foolish cop (Oscar Kightley) is on the trail of some unlawful behavior linked to the pair who'll enjoy some lofty naturalism together (including wildlife). While coming upon an assortment of motley characters like Rhys Darby's conspiracy theorist Psycho Sam. Rachel House lends a cutthroat lilt to the dogged social services representative who lives by the maxim "no child left behind."
Some may argue that the set-up gets too much mileage, but there certainly is enough dramatic weight to what occurs during (and results from) a long hike for Ricky and Hec that accentuates the striking scenery and topography as a wily Waititi accomplishes much with a limited budget and shooting schedule. Especially from the customary pleasing manner in which a lesser-seen Neill embodies Hec to the unexpected precociously pungent (not just verbally, but also in amusing visages) Dennison who appears to have much potential on the basis of this performance.
It's just entertaining and heartwarming to have the opportunity to witness an overriding winsome Wilderpeople that doesn't have to hunt for effective understated emotional underpinnings. All the while staying on an even keel even when embracing the outré such as Waititi's brief turn as an off-the-cuff minister.
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