Review: The Death of Dick Long
There is an odd balance at play in Daniel Scheinert's follow-up to Swiss Army Man. It feels like he was dared to make a film about the most ridiculously grotesque death and find as much profundity in it as possible. The film is incredibly sincere while being incredibly ridiculous. as it follows very dumb crooks as they attempt to distance themselves from the death of their friend. How he dies is the film's central gag so it won't be spoiled here. However, the gag reframes the film's tone into something less effective than the moments leading up to it.
Zeke Olsen (Michael Abbott Jr.) is a guy who likes to hang out with his bandmates, "get weird", and do stupid stuff. One night, things get very weird and we see Zeke and his best bud Earl (Andre Hyland) dump Dick outside a hospital in a panic. Dick dies, no spoiler there, and the two are left to deal with the aftermath. They both freak out and soon begin to cover any traces of their involvement with Dick. The trouble is, they aren't very intelligent and they routinely make things worse in their attempts. Two local cops begin to question them and this only increases their desperation, splitting the two friends apart while also ruining Zeke's family life.
Unlike Swiss Army Man, the tonal control from scene to scene isn't dialed in. That film was able to swing big and be both ridiculous and heartfelt. This film can't seem to find the same magic chemistry. I commend the film for never looking down upon its characters in key scenes but there are plenty of throw-away jokes that mock them. For instance, their love of terrible rock music is routinely mined for a chuckle. The issue here may be how the characters are written. None of the characters feel fully fleshed out. They all seem like kind of the same backwoods nitwits. Zeke and Earl process the situation differently but it is never clear as to why.
The movies big reveal is not handled with a sure hand. In a key scene where Zeke's wife finds out what happened to Dick and what her husband has been up to, it is impossible to tell who the filmmakers want us to sympathize with. This happens an hour into a 100-minute film and the remaining runtime never quite deals with the ripples of it. Instead, the final act focuses on Zeke stammering around trying to keep the cops from finding out what happened. Why bring up such a crazy plot point to only use it for shock value and not as a chance to explore the people it affects?
And ultimately, The Death of Dick Long only has this shock value going for it. It may be one of the more WTF films of 2019. I think the prize still goes to Serenity as the best WTF film of 2019. Scheinert never finds the right tonal balance to make the film affecting or memorable past the big reveal. Too bad because somewhere in here is a good film in the vein of the Coen Brothers' Fargo.