TMN film critic Gordon McPherson gives “The Death of Dick Long” three and a half out of five rocking horses.
“The Death of Dick Long” is among the weirdest films I’ve seen all year. Directed by Daniel Scheinert — one of the masterminds behind “Swiss Army Man” — the film is a suspense comedy that consistently surprises.
One fateful night in small town Alabama, three members of the band Pink Freud enjoy a night of drug use, alcohol consumption and poor decisions. Their gathering seems innocent enough, reminiscent of a particularly idiotic night of fraternity partying, however, one member — the titular Dick Long — gets mortally wounded. It appears Long wasn’t long for this world. Zeke and Earl, the other incompetent band members, are obviously freaked out but don’t want anybody to know what happened. Claiming responsibility proves too much for these country folk. Zeke must contend with his suspicious wife, inquisitive daughter and two bumbling police detectives on the case. The cane-carrying Sheriff Spenser enjoys sipping Malibu pineapple rum in stressful times. The novice Officer Dudley, on her first homicide case, always has a quiche waiting for her at home. Roy Wood Jr. of “The Daily Show” fame also makes an appearance as a flabbergasted medical examiner.
Like “Swiss Army Man,” “The Death of Dick Long” defies classification. The film’s dark humor and profane revelations are reminiscent of “Fargo,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “Good Time” and “Logan Lucky” — four vastly different films. Suspense, vulgarity and stupidity are on display from frame one.
After the bombastic excesses of “Zombieland: Double Tap,” it’s refreshing to watch a comedy with well-realized characters. “The Death of Dick Long” is dry, full of uncomfortable situations and hysterical coincidences that the actors fully commit to.
Even though Zeke and Earl are wildly inept and cowardly individuals, the film made me actually care about them by the end.
Zeke in particular, played by a pitch-perfect Michael Abbott Jr., is an endearing character. His attempts to cover his tracks are simultaneously hilarious and pitiful.
Zeke spouts a seemingly never-ending series of flimsily constructed lies which don’t hold up under scrutiny, resulting in several painful encounters which embrace the comedic potential of classic dramatic irony.
Part of how “The Death of Dick Long” subverts comedic clichés, however, involves the film’s focus on the human consequences of Zeke and Earl’s decisions. At times, the film even plays like an art house drama — full of dead serious closeups and reaction shots basked in cinematic lighting and atmospheric touches.
Zeke’s wife and child grow increasingly suspicious of Zeke and Earl, leaving Zeke flailing for an escape from his unfortunate situation.
Indeed, Zeke embodies the kind of emotionally repressed masculinity that is becoming all too common nowadays. His secret life away from his wife and daughter reflects a sense of loneliness that ultimately proves tragic as the film progresses. At one point, alone in his bedroom, Zeke punches a lamp shade in a fit of rage and sadness — a prime example of how the film can elicit laughs and empathy at the same time.
However, while viewers know that Zeke and Earl are lying from the beginning, the specifics of what actually happened that tragic night remain hidden until the film’s halfway point.
The main reveal is shocking and deeply taboo. It’s ridiculous but also masking deeper emotions. In fact, it might be the most memorable plot twist of the year.
While I adore how “The Death of Dick Long” illustrates the subversive potential of comedy, the film has notable pacing issues. Some sequences drag on too long, likely leaving technology-dependent viewers checking their smartphones at regular intervals.
The film also requires viewers’ attention to get its messages across. Individual scenes seem unnecessary and overly self-indulgent, but make more sense when the film’s central themes surface later on.
The film’s particular brand of humor — raunchy, offensive, yet oddly heartfelt — won’t be to everyone’s taste. The film is carried by this humor and Abbott Jr.’s performance, appealing to a specific demographic of sarcastic, open-minded cinephiles. In other words, those who enjoyed “Swiss Army Man” will undoubtedly enjoy Scheinert’s new cinematic effort.
If viewers are looking for a befuddling, harsh and idiosyncratic film with three-dimensional characters, “The Death of Dick Long” doesn’t come up short.