Review: Chubby boy, grumpy man in ‘Hunt’

Tom Long
The Detroit News

The New Zealand writer-director Taika Waititi is known for making quirky, sweet, funny, endearing films. His latest, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” will do nothing to sully that reputation, being thoroughly quirky, sweet, funny and endearing.

At its center is a chubby — OK, fat — 13-year-old delinquent named Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison). Dubbed a “bad egg” by the foster care system, he’s brought to live on a remote farm near the New Zealand bush with the warm-hearted and patient Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her tight-lipped husband Hector (Sam Neill, reminding you how good he can be).

Despite the authorities warnings about what a pain Ricky can be, Bella wins him over and he actually comes to think of the farm as home. But then tragedy strikes, and it looks like Ricky will be swept back into the foster care system or worse. Ricky decides to take refuge in the bush, thousands of acres of deep forest.

Where he promptly gets lost. Luckily Hector finds him. But then Hector has an accident and needs time to mend. While Ricky and Hector are camping in the woods the authorities come up with the fantasy that Ricky’s been kidnapped. Soon their absence is a nationwide news story and a manhunt is on.

The great joy here is the clash of Ricky’s thug-inspired delusions — his dog is named Tupac — and Hector’s grumpy reticence to make any connection. They are a classic odd couple, with Hector the straight man and Ricky the bumbling, effervescent innocent. But in this case, they’re an odd couple on the run.

Waititi (“What We Do in the Shadows,” “Boy,” “Eagle vs. Shark”) goes broad quite often, but the film holds its singular tone. “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is a hoot with heart.

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.


‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’


Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including violent content, and some language

Running time: 101 minutes