Hunt for the Wilder peo­ple

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, com­edy/ad­ven­ture, rated PG-13, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - — Jonathan Richards

Ricky Baker (new­comer Ju­lian Den­ni­son) is a very bad egg. We have this on the author­ity of his child wel­fare of­fi­cer, Paula Hall (Rachel House,

White Lies). The movie opens with Paula de­liv­er­ing the thirteen-year-old into the hands of his last-chance foster fam­ily, the re­mote bush-dwelling farm cou­ple Bella (Rima Te Wi­ata) and her hus­band, the cur­mud­geonly old Hec (Sam Neill). Ricky’s lengthy rap sheet in­cludes theft, ar­son, and graf­fiti. If he doesn’t stick with Bella and Hec, it’s “ju­vey” (ju­ve­nile prison) for this pudgy, sullen delin­quent, who looks like he stepped off a toxic New Zealand Camp­bell’s Soup can.

Bella is a geyser of love and op­ti­mism and wel­comes the kid with open arms and an open heart. Hec, ar­riv­ing home with the bloody car­cass of a wild boar slung over his shoul­der, glares at him sourly and growls, “Ever worked on a farm be­fore, or are you just or­na­men­tal?” City kid Ricky has never seen a farm and doesn’t much care for what he sees. He checks into his bed­room and checks out the same night, but he only man­ages a few hun­dred yards in his bid for free­dom. Bella finds him asleep nearby the next morn­ing.

But cir­cum­stances, not to be re­vealed here, re­sult in Ricky’s run­ning away again, to avoid be­ing re­pos­sessed by child pro­tec­tive ser­vices. He fakes his sui­cide and high­tails it for the dense New Zealand bush with his dog, a birth­day present from Bella, gets hope­lessly lost, and is found by savvy woods­man Hec. But Hec’s avowed in­ten­tion to turn the kid in is foiled when the old man is in­jured, and the two have to hole up in the woods while he heals.

The au­thor­i­ties as­sume kid­nap­ping and worse, and a mas­sive man­hunt en­sues for Hec and Ricky. The bulk of the movie fol­lows as the two tra­verse the jun­gle “like wilde­beest flee­ing across the Serengeti,” in Ricky’s col­or­ful im­age, elud­ing bounty hun­ters, cops, the mil­i­tary, the press, and the re­lent­less, Javert-like Paula.

All this is in the in­ven­tive hands of Kiwi writer-di­rec­tor Taika Waititi, whose vam­pire pic­ture What We Do in the Shad­ows earned a lot of fa­vor­able no­tice and who will pro­ceed from here, in one of the more un­likely cin­e­matic ca­reer leaps, to Hol­ly­wood to take charge of the next Thor block­buster. But there’s no hint of that im­pend­ing su­per­hero style in this en­dear­ing, off-kil­ter ex­er­cise in genre sto­ry­telling gone de­light­fully off the rails. It’s the well-worn story of the grad­ual, grudg­ing bond­ing of a cur­mud­geon and a kid, but told with a deep reser­voir of charm and sur­prise.

Wilderpeople is adapted from Wild Pork and Water­cress, a novel by the late, beloved New Zealand author Barry Crump, which pre­sum­ably is a quirky piece of work it­self. But Waititi surely adds off-the-wall twists of his own, in­clud­ing a few un­ex­pected sound­track songs and his own cameo as an imag­i­na­tive back­woods preacher in this ex­trav­a­gant, far­fetched, but cap­ti­vat­ing tale. Neill is, as al­ways, won­der­ful. And it’s a break­out per­for­mance by young Den­ni­son as the haiku-spout­ing, wise­crack­ing Ricky.

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Wild child: Ju­lian Den­ni­son

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