At some point since its premiere at 2019’s SXSW Film Festival, Get Duked! got re-titled. Originally called Boyz in the Wood, one imagines there were some copyright issues with that nod to John Singleton’s classic, so the film was re-christened to reference the very real Duke of Edinburgh Award program in the UK around which it centers, one that is designed to teach life skills and build confidence in the nation’s youth through real-world and outdoor endeavors. The title is slightly unfortunate here in the states, as on its own it may be enough to cause an idle viewer sifting through endless streaming options to pass on it. Which would be too bad, as in writer/director Ninian Doff’s raucous homage to the adventure-based program, four said youths are shipped off to the Highlands (we’d call it the countryside) and set loose to find their way to camp before dark with only a map, whatever they packed in their rucksacks and their wits to guide them.
Three of the four boys are misfits, troublemakers sent off to the program with the hopes of knocking some sense into them; the fourth, Ian (Samuel Bottomly) truly wants to be there and earn his award fair and square—he’s got university admissions applications to beef up, and as the four of them set out on their day’s journey, he’s taking it all very seriously. Before long, the boys are clearly in over their heads. DJ Beetroot (Viraj Juneja), dressed in pristine white from head to toe, is holding up the group as he tip-toes through the muddy fields. Dean (Rian Gordon) busts out a wad of suspicious-looking hash his brother sold him, preferring to get high rather than get found. And Duncan (Lewis Gribbean), the third and perhaps dumbest (and therefore most endearing) misfit, will cause his own degrees of trouble, just you wait.
The foursome are doing just fine mucking up their plans on their own, but Doff is clever enough to complicate their adventure even further with the arrival of a sort of Royal-watchers secret society, a man (the incomprable Eddie Izzard) decked out in hunting gear a la Prince Phillip complete with a rifle (with which he takes aim at the teens) and a creepy Phantom-like mask covering half his face. Not to be outsmarted, the boys make a run for it, combining their ragtag selection of supplies to create weapons they can use to fight back against this masked psycho who’s attacking them in the middle of nowhere. What follows is a tumbling, silly series of events that so crisply and hilariously unfold, gags running into each other and then returning again, that the laughs are genuine and the adventure a total blast.
The saying “boys will be boys” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it these days, especially when it’s referring to the likes of offensive “locker room talk” or used to excuse abuse, violence or racism. But Get Duked! returns the saying to its goofy, harmless roots, as these boys truly are just being the dummies every 17-year-old kid is, sometimes lucking out when their bumbling works in their favor. More often than not, they just make the whole situation worse, like when they need to shove their group leader’s van off a cliff (long story, won’t spoil it) and Duncan releases the parking break only to have the van slide backwards down the long, high hill they just trudged up. “It’s an island! It’ll fall off a cliff eventually!” he optimistically offers in response. (And does it ever…see: running gags.)
It’s always welcome when an emerging filmmaker (Doff’s apparently been making shorts for years, so it wouldn’t be fair to call him “new”) delivers a fully formed film, one with a perspective, a sense of style and most importantly, confidence. From clever editing during key moments to characters as charming as they are stupid to plot lines that don’t seem to mean much but really, really do, Get Duked! is a surprising little gem of a distraction during very, very heavy times. Thoroughly entertaining, it’s the kind of movie that might not stay with you the way more serious dramas might, but will be top of mind when a friend asks for something fun, chill and escapist to stream this weekend.
Get Duked! is now streaming on Amazon Prime.