A movie titled “The Death of Dick Long” conjures up images of adolescents guffawing to vaguely inappropriate sex and/or drug-related jokes in the vein of “American Pie,” its ridiculously numerous sequels, “Porky’s” or “Dude, Where’s My Car?”
Yet “The Death of Dick Long,” opening Friday at the Alamo Drafthouse, is actually a quite clever, if messed-up, movie.
Its attentive depiction of small-town Alabama and surprising nuances of character are reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s debut “Bottle Rocket” or the TV series “Fargo” based on Joel and Ethan Coen’s classic 1996 movie.
Considering it’s directed by Daniel Scheinert, of the unique, slightly unsettling “Swiss Army Man,” viewers should be warned it does cross a line or two.
It begins as three friends — Zeke (Michael Abbott Jr.), Earl (Andre Hyland) and the titular Richard Long — gather for band practice. They stumble through a classic rock tune before Earl poses a question. “You motherf——rs wanna get weird?”
That consists staying out all night, shotgunning canned beverages, smoking pot, shooting fireworks, lighting things on fire, and more. At the end, Dick is bleeding in the back of Zeke’s car, as they careen toward the hospital.
What happened is so bad, Zeke and Earl can’t take their friend inside. They dump him near the door, stealing his wallet to ensure “anonymity.”
Inside, the doctor (Roy Wood Jr.) speaks with the close-to-retirement Sheriff Spenser (Janelle Cochrane), who walks with a cane and sips from a flask; the victim has died, and the damage to the body is a mystery.
The sheriff and the younger, eager officer Dudley (Sarah Baker) begin a slow, lazy investigation while Zeke desperately tries to figure out what to do with Dick’s wallet and driver’s license, as well as the huge blood stain in the back of his car.
Needless to say, neither Zeke nor Earl qualify for the title of master criminal; they make a dumb decisions that unfold with hilarious tension.
The mystery is good, genuinely surprising (and shocking), but the funny little relationships between the characters are what’s best about the movie.
When Zeke and Earl try to sink the bloody car in a pond, they inevitably get into a splashing/dunking fight. At one point, the fight stops; Earl thinks maybe he’s chipped a tooth, and Zeke takes a moment to check it out.
Later, Zeke argues with his wise, good-hearted wife, Lydia (Virginia Newcomb). She figures out her husband lied, becomes enraged and throws him out. He cuts his hand on a pane of glass, and Lydia brings him back inside to dress his wound.
These are weirdly touching moments, gently suggesting the fathoms these people have been through together.
Earl, with his bowl haircut, comes close to being a caricature, but the movie has a wild card in Sunita Mani (from Netflix’s “GLOW”), as a neighbor with a crush on him.
Unfortunately, the movie has a cruddy look with swooshy hand-held camerawork, and other flaws. For some reason, in one or two scenes it’s pouring rain, and in others it’s dry as a bone.
Nevertheless, solid writing and acting carry the day: “The Death of Dick Long” does have some laughs, but ultimately, poor Richard’s death is more than a joke, and his strange legacy casts a lengthy shadow worth pondering.
The Death of Dick Long
Starring: Michael Abbott Jr., Andre Hyland, Virginia Newcomb, Sarah Baker
Written by: Billy Chew
Directed by: Daniel Scheinert
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes