Teamwork. Orienteering. Foraging. Three tasks that shouldn’t be too difficult to complete when bolstered by your best friends on a hiking trip en route to earning the Duke of Edinburgh Award. It’s going to be a challenge, but most who seek it do so with open eyes because of what the accolade means on their university applications. They want to be their best, will follow the map to the letter, and meet their chaperone at the midway campsite and coastal finish line with smiles on their faces. But as years passed, fewer teens actually still cared about a stuffy award forcing them to put their phones in their pockets and traverse the Scottish Highlands. It became a punishment teachers used to escape their troublemakers for a couple of days.
That’s exactly why Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan (Lewis Gribben), and DJ (Viraj Juneja) find themselves in the middle of nowhere without reception. Well, that’s not entirely true. This trip is actually a stroke of luck for the trio considering the alternative for their actions was expulsion—something they almost regret missing out on due to the “cool” factor of knowing what they did earned the highest form of retribution and because it would have allowed them to get on with their fated manual labor jobs post-graduation. The only reason they were present when Mr. Carlyle (Jonathan Aris) arrived was because two days in nature afforded them an opportunity to get high without any adult supervision. They’re so self-involved that they don’t even realize they’re part of a quartet.
Writer/director Ninian Doff knows that his film Get Duked! can’t just be about dropping three flunkies down on a perilous hilltop since they’ll end up accidentally killing themselves after five minutes. He needs someone present who at least knows the definition of responsibility let alone how to wield it. That’s where Ian (Samuel Bottomley), the over-achieving homeschooler, comes in. He wants to be here. Ian was so desperate to take this journey that he told the powers that be to pair him off with any group they had. It’s obviously not long before he realizes the error of his way (the map is soon shredded into rolling papers), but there’s little he can do about it since finishing without his team is deemed an automatic failure.
Here’s the thing, though: so is getting murdered. Just like in the real world, the seeming complacency of Generation Z is often less about their motivation levels and more about the state of the world as left by greedy Boomers who can’t see past their nose to recognize they’ve hoarded all the resources that were conversely available in their own youth to “make something of themselves.” So it’s not that “kids these days” don’t want a leg up by hiking the Highlands and procuring a laminated certificate, they simply accept the futility of such endeavors when they can neither afford university nor pretend they possess the pedigree necessary to do something with a university education if they could. Late stage capitalism already ruined Dean, Duncan, and DJ’s futures.
Because these Boomers can’t see this truth, however, they’ve inevitably grown frustrated with cruelty. If you can’t appreciate the world they’ve built, you no longer deserve to live. That’s the motto the so-called Duke (Eddie Izzard) and Duchess (Georgie Glen) have adopted. To them, the Duke of Edinburgh Award season is hunting season because they can spy through their telescopic rifle and see how “lazy” the latest crop of participants are. And if a kid squanders his or her opportunity, they won’t squander theirs. So maybe all the missing children posters at the trailhead are due to the dangerous risks inherent to the Highlands themselves or maybe they’re evidence that the Duke and Duchess have been very successful at culling the herd of its impoverished and ungrateful scourge.
Not to stop there, Doff goes even further by showing the type of people who do survive to drink the so-called splendors of twenty-first-century living. Dean, Duncan, and DJ epitomize the stereotypes of under-achievers, burnouts, and counter-culture, but the police officers relegated to chasing a bread thief while all those missing-persons cases stay unsolved epitomize the upward mobility of mediocrity. The kids who don’t have money or have dark skin are dismissed so white-born idiots like Sergeant Morag (Kate Dickie) and PC Hamish (Keith Guthrie) can run around in circles drawn by their latent racism, unfounded entitlement, and inability to acknowledge what’s right in front of their faces. Doff may have thrown in a kitchen sink of clichés, but he knows exactly how to marry them together.
The result is an endearingly uproarious affair whether it’s pitting Ian’s disbelief against Duncan’s absurdity, Morag’s far-fetched fantasies against easy-to-explain realities, or DJ’s superficial “gangster” façade against an aging group of farmers (led by James Cosmo) who prove not all books adhere to their covers when hallucinogenic rabbit pellets are in play. Soup gets snorted, compact discs ignite bombs, and our unlikely foursome of under-appreciated kids discovers the true meaning of teamwork—albeit in very unorthodox ways. Everything that happens does so with reason (and/or worthwhile comedic payoff) and the eccentric bumpkins versus one-percenters versus Gen-Z dynamic possesses more than enough surprises to maintain your interest. DJ will spit a few lyrics about the injustices on-screen and his friends’ oppressors just might receive their grisly deserts.
Get Duked! hits Amazon Prime on August 28.