By Elias Savada.
There’s a swarth of idiocy running through this so-called dark comedy, but for the most part it fails at being what I had hoped for: funny. Plenty of drollness, though that falls flat, too. Director Daniel Schienert (half of the team known as the Daniels, who made the eccentric 2016 critic favorite Swiss Army Man, which also centers around a corpse) and Billy Chew, with a first feature screenplay, aim for the mundane. That target they hit. The film tries to channel the delicious rural humor of Fargo, but their transition from the snowbound landscape of North Dakota to the small town Alabama melts quicker than you can say “climate change” as you ache to re-watch the Coen brothers’ classic. As one of the characters says near the close of this limp biscuit, “I don’t think it’s funny at all” responding to an attempt at humor by her partner. She’s got that right about The Death of Dick Long, a forgettable indie effort.
There’s not even a kicker ending. Just a wimper.
Basic plot? Simple-minded bumpkins Zeke Olsen (Michael Abbott, Jr.) and Earl Wyeth (Andre Hyland) lead seemingly listless lives, entertaining themselves as lame musicians (move over Nickelback) who practice with the eponymous Dick Long. The live to chug beer, set off fireworks, and blast shotguns at bottles. After partying one night, things “get weird” and Dick ends up seriously injured in the bloodied back seat of Zeke’s car. Zeke and Earl, frantic and foolish as always, decide to drop him on the tarmac outside the local hospital, but their friend succumbs after this night of misadventure. The in-joke is that Mr. Long is played by Schienert, and I suspect the audience in the know about this casting might tend to think something other than what he did:
I approached Channing Tatum and Justin Timberlake and some other big names but they didn’t want the part even though they get to say the juicy line “Y’all motherfuckers want to get weird?” Casting me was actually Billy Chew’s idea, and it was a different kind of stunt casting. Nobody is going to recognize me, but there’s a meta-narrative in the idea of a director playing such an embarrassing role—one that makes me feel oddly comforted actually, because I don’t want people to think I’m making fun of the South. It was humbling in a good way playing Dick Long, but also ego boosting because I’m in a titular role.
As much as you might think Alabama deserves to take the brunt of any Southern yokel joke, I don’t think that’s valid. The bad decisions that run rampant in this film can happen in any rural community that sports uneducated and unsophisticated folks.
The male leads are negligible boys in men’s bodies, with the emphasis on what happens to them when they’ve played too hard and try to cover up their mess. The cause of Dick’s death is the film’s big secret, and it’s not a pretty one. It’s so horrendous, it sticks out like a sore thumb and manages to dampen any ability to laugh after its big reveal. Not that I laughed any before it.
What the film does do well is provide strong female roles. Zeke’s wife Lydia (Virginia Newcomb), not aware of her man’s dark secret, is willing to believe his cockamamie tall tale just so much. Jess Weixler (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, The Good Wife, and the lovely Chained for Life) doesn’t get enough screen time, but still registers as Jane Long, Richard’s wife. She’s left to wander through the film not knowing that the unidentified body in the town morgue is her husband. Most likable were the town’s two low key Mayberry-esque cops, Officer Dudley (Sarah Baker) and Sheriff Spenser (Janelle Cochrane). Fans of CSI: New Orleans they obviously picked up some detective nuances there and translated them from the small screen to their small town. They’re quirky and amusing.
The other face the audience might recognize is that of Roy Wood, Jr., one of the “correspondents” on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. He’s fine as a no-nonsense, no comedy hospital doctor. He hasn’t quit his night job for the big screen.
Don’t see The Death of Dick Long. Watch the trailer. That’s sorta funny.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the new documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (the revised edition will be published in 2019 by Centipede Press).