Jody Hill and Danny McBride have been longtime collaborators and friends. They met during film school and the duo has been working together and working often ever since. Even after McBride blew up in the late 2000’s, he still continued working with Hill (the director of his first film ‘The Foot Fist Way’) and together they have made two beloved televisions series for HBO (‘Eastbound & Down’ and ‘Vice Principals’). This week at SXSW they premiered their newest project, a Netflix film called ‘The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter’. Unfortunately, this time the talented pairing only manages an uneven, but slightly enjoyable film.
Legacy stars Josh Brolin as Buck Ferguson. He is (self-proclaimed) “America’s #1 White Tail Deer Hunter”. He and his best friend and trusted cameraman Don, Played by McBride, are picking up Buck’s son Jaden from his ex-wife’s home. The plan for the weekend is to shoot the next adventure in Buck’s long running hunting DVD series. The focus of this video will be the triumph of a father/son relationship when Buck’s son Jaden (played by newcomer Montana Jordan) bags his first deer.
The plot of the film had me incredibly confused at time. Not because it opaque or esoteric, but rather I was confounded by how generic and conventional their adventure is. It follows story beats you have seen a million times if you raised in a “No R-rated movies” home (which I was). You know know exactly how the film will move within 15 minutes. Buck and his son will struggle to bond. Buck will be jealous of Greg, the new man in his ex-wife and son’s life. Everyone will get in physical comedy hijinks at different points. I can’t believe I am saying this but the film I was reminded of a lot during this was Robin Williams’ ‘RV’. And that was the last thing I was expecting from the guys who brought the world Kenny Powers.
Those traditional, and frankly corny, tropes in the plot are what weakens the film. However, there are little moments come through that remind us that Hill and McBride are still the creative force behind this. When Don and Jaden get scenes alone throughout the hunting trip, McBride turns into the boy’s fun, but highly inappropriate, uncle. Those moments are what works best and feels most familiar to what I’ve seen from the filmmakers. McBride attempted to have “man talks” with a 12 year old do lead to laugh out loud moments. What is so odd is that these moments are often juxtaposed to the previously mentioned “family style” comedy that make the scene’s feel disjointed. It’s like the film wants to be more transgressive but keeps getting scared back into the template of a Disney movie. The film also wastes Carrie Coon, a near unforgivable sin.
There are positives to be found in this, The filmmaking here is quite good, the film was shot on location in the Appellation Mountains of North Carolina (the film crew began to call the project “Poor Man’s Revenant” after seeing the Intuitu film midway through shooting). Hill and his team compellingly photograph the rivers, mountain sides and wooded areas of their location and I always appreciate comedies that look cinematic and that is a big mark in this movies favor. Also, Josh Brolin is having a ton of fun as Buck and unlike some of the other comedies he has done in the past, he gets to be a comedic character. Normally when he’s cast in comedies he plays a variation on “The Heavy” or “The Straight Man”, you could tell he had a lot of fun being silly with in the woods with McBride & Jordan.
I would, slightly begrudgingly, recommend you check it out on Netflix (Thank God for their desire for content that will never be satiated) later this summer. ‘The Legacy of a White Tail Deer Hunter’ is funny enough, but forgettable little film. There are a few really hysterical moments, but not as many as you’d expect. If you get sick of seeing Josh Brolin being serious in comic-book movies this summer and want to watch him mug for a camera in the great outdoors, this is your movie. And, Honestly, there are lot worse ways to spend an hour and a half.