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With: Michael Abbott Jr., Andre Hyland, Virginia Newcomb, Sarah Baker, Jess Weixler, Poppy Cunningham, Roy Wood Jr., Sunita Mani, Janelle Cochrane
Written by: Billy Chew
Directed by: Daniel Scheinert
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, disturbing sexual material, and brief drug use
Running Time: 100
Date: 09/27/2019

The Death of Dick Long (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Weird Tales

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A movie with a not-so-subtle title like The Death of Dick Long conjures up images of adolescents tittering and guffawing to vaguely inappropriate sex and/or drug-related jokes, in the vein of movies like American Pie, its ridiculously numerous sequels, Porky's, or Dude, Where's My Car?

That assumption would be a mistake. The Death of Dick Long is actually a quite clever, if totally messed-up, movie.

Its attentive depiction of place — small town Alabama — and the surprising nuances of character come closer to things like Wes Anderson's debut feature Bottle Rocket or the TV series Fargo, based on Joel and Ethan Coen's classic 1996 movie.

Of course, considering that the movie comes from director Daniel Scheinert, of the unique and slightly unsettling Swiss Army Man, viewers should be warned that this movie does cross a line or two.

It begins as three friends — Zeke (Michael Abbott Jr.), Earl (Andre Hyland), and the titular Richard Long — gather for band practice. They stumble through a classic rock tune before Earl poses a question. "You motherf----rs wanna get weird?"

Getting weird consists of staying out all night, shotgunning canned beverages, smoking pot, shooting fireworks, lighting things on fire, and... more. At the end of it, Dick is bleeding in the back of Zeke's car, as they careen toward the hospital.

Whatever happened is so bad that Zeke and Earl can't even take their friend inside. They merely dump him near the door, stealing his wallet to ensure "anonymity."

Inside, the doctor (Roy Wood Jr.) speaks with the close-to-retirement Sheriff Spenser (Janelle Cochrane), who walks with a cane and sips from a flask; the victim has died, and the damage to the body is a mystery.

The sheriff and the younger, eager officer Dudley (Sarah Baker) begin a slow, lazy investigation while Zeke desperately tries to figure out what to do with Dick's wallet and driver's license, as well as the huge blood stain in the back of his car.

Needless to say, neither Zeke nor Earl would qualify for the title of master criminal, and they make a string of dumb decisions that unfold with hilarious tension.

The mystery is a good one, genuinely surprising (and shocking), but the real draw to this movie is the funny little relationships between the characters.

When Zeke and Earl try to sink the bloody car in a local pond, they inevitably get into a splashing/dunking fight. At one point, the fight stops; Earl thinks maybe he's chipped a tooth, and Zeke takes a moment to check it out.

Later, Zeke argues with his wise, good-hearted wife, Lydia (Virginia Newcomb). She pieces together her husband's lies with the truth, becomes enraged, and throws him out. He cuts his hand on a pane of glass, and Lydia brings him back inside to dress his wound.

These are weirdly touching moments, gently suggesting the fathoms these people have been through together.

Earl, with his bowl haircut, comes close to being a caricature, but the movie has a wild card in Sunita Mani (from Netflix's GLOW), as a neighbor with a crush on him. He's kind of a jerk (he's constantly vaping), and not nearly as soulful as Zeke is, but, seen through her eyes, he does give the impression that he's master of his fate.

Technically, the movie has an unfortunate cruddy look with some swooshy hand-held camerawork, and it's not without certain flaws. For some reason, in one or two scenes it's pouring rain, and in others it's dry as a bone. (Is that what the weather's really like in Alabama?)

Nevertheless, the solid writing and acting carries the day. The long and short of it is that The Death of Dick Long does have some laughs, but ultimately, poor Richard's death is more than just a joke, and his strange legacy casts a lengthy shadow that is worth pondering.

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