Jody Hill and Danny McBride own a very specific brand of humor when they collaborate. Since Hill’s feature debut, The Foot Fist Way, the Carolina hooligans have been crafting idiosyncratic comedies about highly capable buffoons that – despite being remarkable joke generators – are also three-dimensional human beings. From Fred Simmons to Kenny Powers, this collection of volatile, egocentric, often violent dreamers became a calling card, spilling over into Hill's works that didn't star McBride (though, in fairness, Observe & Report’s Ronnie Barnhardt may still be the writer/director's greatest creation). Unified by an egotistical self-centeredness that marks them as patently ridiculous, when called upon to prove themselves, these loud men also turn out to be true to their not-so-humblebragging word.
The Legacy of the Whitetail Deer Hunter is the latest in Hill’s oeuvre of petulantly proud American males. Only instead of McBride – who’s still very much present and accounted for, bringing numerous jerk off jokes with him – Josh Brolin gets to play the titular doe shooter. His Buck Ferguson is a good ol’ boy hunter (almost certainly modeled after Roger Raglin) who’s made a living off filming his numerous exploits in the forest, taking aim at twelve points and using his self-branded deer urine to draw his prey in. He’s the king of the Southern woods, clad in camo and ready to bring back a trophy every time.
Yet like most of Hill’s protagonists – this one penned by the director, McBride, and Vice Principals writer John Carcieri – Buck’s life away from the DVD-ready adventures is kind of wreck. He’s divorced, but still very much in love with his ex (even after two years of separation), and insanely jealous of her new beau (Scoot McNairy) because he’s developed quite the bond with Buck’s boy Jaden (Montana Jordan). So, Ferguson’s next outing into the wilderness is not only a last-ditch effort to revitalize a slagging business (YouTube killed the video star, it seems), but also a chance to reconnect with the little knucklehead, who won’t get the hell off his cell phone.
As you can probably guess, these bumbling attempts at being both a “cool dad” and passing down the tradition of killing these majestic beasts is from where much of The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter’s comedy is derived. Jaden’s a loudmouthed monster, constantly bored with Buck trying to teach him how to shoot a rifle properly, as all he wants to do is play with the automatic cannon his potential stepdad just gave him. After all, a little old single shot isn’t quite as sexy as a laser-sighted machine gun. Then there’s the issue of the little dude needing to check in every five minutes with his new girlfriend. This is all standard preteen behavior, but due to Buck having no fucking clue what to do about it, the conflict ends in crashed RVs and not a lot of deer getting shot. But Buck’s a “man’s man”, and his boy will enjoy this hyper-masculine, chew-spitting, venison-skinning lifestyle he’s trying to bestow upon him, whether he likes it or not.
It probably shouldn’t come as a shock to see Josh Brolin sliding into Jody Hill’s mean-spirited style so easily (though when compared to Kenny Powers or Lee Russell, the hunter’s practically a perfect role model). The grizzled No Country For Old Men star puts his own gruff drawl to good work, mugging up a storm in several reaction shots. He’s almost like the Reynolds Woodcock of Down South sportsmen, annoyed by every little thing this kid does (or doesn’t do) while simultaneously trying to impress him with inflatable King-Sized mattresses, and how his cameraman Don (McBride) famously mixes the beans with Picante salsa (creating quite the “o-ring stinger”). While certainly nowhere near the iconic goofiness of Powers, Ferguson is still very much cut from the classic Hill/McBride cloth, complete with his own adoring sidekick.
Speaking of which, McBride’s turn as the lone documentarian is the most curious aspect of The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter, as he’s essentially playing Ferguson’s version of Stevie (only not as bewilderingly aggressive in social situations). Don loves his boss, but these trips to the woods are getting to be a bit much after all these years, and his better half would prefer that they settle down and spend some more time together on his in-laws’ farm. Of course, Buck wants to hear nothing of the sort, as they’re going to be tracking these animals for the rest of their lives, wives and girlfriends be damned. It’s another classic source of conflict taken out of Hill’s playbook, as we know that - despite the good-natured ribbing and sex gags (that Ferguson frowns upon in front of the boy) - this is all going to blow up by the final reel.
To be frank, The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter is definitely the worst film Hill and McBride have made together, but if you’re a longtime fan, there’s still plenty to giggle at here. Plus, the film runs a scant eighty-three minutes, so even if you begin to bristle at the rather garish digital cinematography – the movie looks very cheap, and those replused by the CGI deer in Three Billboards should certainly steer clear – this “white trash Revenant” (as the crew lovingly refers to it) delivers that same potent mixture of cringe humor and genuine feeling that those devoted to this duo and their work have come to adore.
The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter will continue to screen at SXSW Wednesday, March 14th, at the Alamo Ritz (11:30 AM), and Friday, March 16th, at the ZACH Theater (2:45 PM).