The low-stakes Get Duked! thankfully proves to be a more spirited and memorable comedy than its godawful title suggests.
It has to be said: Get Duked! is a terrible title, completely nonsensical outside the context of the film, and with the added note of clear desperation in the form of an exclamation point. No one scrolling through Amazon Prime is likely to be drawn to a title this vague, a shame given that the film is an amiable, shaggy dog tale with light-hearted escapist potential almost built for times such as these. The feature debut from writer-director Ninian Doff, Get Duked! throbs with an English sensibility when it comes to its low-key brand of comedy. Sure, the film indulges a couple big comedic set pieces, and it certainly isn’t above stoner jokes, but fundamentally it’s more akin to something like Attack the Block or the films of Edgar Wright than the typical, broad American studio flick. In fact, it’s closest point of comparison — as a synthesis of both its low-brow and droll qualities — might be the British series The Inbetweeners, but padded with a bigger budget and more slapstick violence (and yes, I’m aware that series included a camping trip episode; don’t test me).
The four boys at the heart of this tale include the nerdy Ian (Samuel Bottomley), wannabe rapper DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja), short-sighted stoner Dean (Rian Gordon), and the loveably stupid Duncan (Lewis Gribben). They are sent out to the Scottish Highlands to partake in the Duke of Edinburgh Contest, a camping trip that tests the group’s survival skills; upon completion, they will receive a laminated certificate. From the beginning, things obviously don’t go quite as planned, as these city-dwellers are entirely inept when it comes to anything outdoors. It doesn’t help that they are being followed by a gun-wielding maniac (Eddie Izzard) and his equally murder-minded wife (Georgie Glen), who are co-opting the contest as a means to enact their own version of The Most Dangerous Game. Then, the hallucination-inducing rabbit poop is introduced. For a film to work according to such narrative machinations, the charm and chemistry of the cast are absolutely essential in order to pull it off. And indeed, the four young actors acquit themselves quite nicely, with Juneja being the stand-out — his DJ Beatroot is probably the broadest caricature, the wealthy suburban kid pretending to be a streetwise baller, but the actor demonstrates spot-on comedic timing and an undeniable geniality, which proves a necessary ingredient when he later pulls off the film’s big musical number. The youngsters also get prime support from an adult cast stacked with English and Scottish ringers, including Izzard, Kate Dickie, Alice Lowe, Jonathan Aris, and James Cosmo, all seemingly having a ball with the shenanigans.
While it would be easy to say that a film that contains a major plot point involving a notorious bread thief lacks depth — “There are babies that have never even seen a baguette!” — Doff actually has a few substantive things to say in regards to socioeconomic status and the generational divide between Boomers and Gen Z. It’s nothing you haven’t heard before, but it is unexpected, a welcome plinth in a film that is otherwise mostly fluff. Doff also evinces some deft filmmaking technique, favoring sweeping vista shots of the majestic locale, compositions evoking both the beauty and ominousness of the Highlands. His young cast is often captured from far above, spied as nothing more than stark, multi-colored dots, alone and at the will of the unfamiliar terrain. Get Duked! is certainly low stakes, and not every joke lands, but it stands as one of the more viscerally pleasurable viewing experiences of the year on the strength of its considerable, effervescent charm. There’s undoubtedly more low-key staying power in the film itself than in its ungodly title, if only audiences manage to find it.
You can currently stream Ninian Doff’s Get Duked! on Amazon Prime.