Since their humble beginnings on The Foot Fist Way, writer-director Jody Hill and writer-actor Danny McBride have consistently dealt in a certain breed of caricature: prideful, insecure, mustachioed Southern white buffoons flailing with both their sad careers and estranged families. But from Eastbound & Down to Vice Principals, their collaborations have always worked because of the darkness and deeply-sad pathos they’ve brought these characters. They’ve created absurd monsters but also nuanced anti-heroes who grow to earn your pity if seldom your respect. The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter is Hill and McBride’s latest effort, though only sort of given that it’s been on the shelf for a couple years now. It’s also their slightest, least essential iteration on their ongoing theme—and not just because it’s a somehow still-tiresome 83 minutes.
Framed like The Life Aquatic by way of Big Buck Hunter, the film sees Josh Brolin going a bit too broad as a dad trying to bond with his son over a hunting trip. Brolin’s Buck Ferguson is a divorcé who’s now giving all his attention to the amateur deer-hunting video series that’s made him a minor celebrity. He hopes that his first father-son excursion will be his masterpiece of sorts, but his kid, Jaden (Montana Jordan), has other ideas. Despite the pronounced Southern drawl, Jaden isn’t so much a country boy as a caricature in his own right, that streaming, smartphone-obsessed archetype of youth elders love to shake their head at. Danny McBride, essentially just playing himself, co-stars as Buck’s cameraman and the guy often needlessly explaining the film’s central conflict.
Were it not for some expectedly memorable music cues—Hill is topped perhaps only by Wes Anderson for cuts you want to look up after the credits—The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter would scarcely be identifiable as a Jody Hill effort. After going perhaps too dark with Observe and Report‘s jarring date-rape, this film seems like his limp antidote, stuffed with needless sentimentality and over-explained jokes. It’s a script that seems tailor-made for David Spade’s ever-increasing oeuvre of lazy Southern mockery, but to see such a talented cast and director doing this near-Happy-Madison-level trash is almost more insulting than Joe Dirt finally becoming a trilogy.
A handful of wonderfully upsetting moments keep the film from quite reaching that nadir, but it’s hard not to see it as an almost self-fulfilling failure. Buck early on begs for his son not to use a laser sight, and it’s that exact narrow focus that brings this Buck down. With not so much as a hint of a B-line—mom Carrie Coon and new dad Scoot McNairy are almost utterly wasted in a single, brief, early scene—The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter is so beholden to its cloying, straightforward father-son narrative that it’s less the field-dressed meat than the left-behind entrails of a comedy.
The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter
Director: Jody Hill
Runtime: 83 minutes
Cast: Josh Brolin, Danny McBride, Montana Jordan, Scoot McNairy, Carrie Coon