In the British comedy Get Duked!, four misfit teens come face to face with a familiar existential threat: other people. A cat-and-mouse cartoon short film optimistically stretched to feature length, Get Duked! is loud, busy, and cheerfully glib, though at points — after the weapons and the sociopolitical have been brandished — it takes a brief turn to sincerity. Yet, that doesn’t do much other than announce that it has more than clichés and jokes about the abilities of rabbit scat. And there’s nothing wrong with a good poop joke, except when the first one falls flat and you keep continually doing them, you’re not exactly on a good track. At large though, the humor in Get Duked! is more scattershot and leans hard into goofiness and the comedy of stereotypes.
The film centers on a real-life youth awards program named after the Duke of Edinburgh, a.k.a. Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II. In Get Duked!, four teen Glaswegian boys are designated for self-improvement in the Scottish Highlands. One is a nerd, while the other three are a typically mouthy, irreverent crew. Their rough lives are telegraphed by their accents, haircuts, eye rolls and the plastic wrapped around one’s shoes. These three mostly serve as a foil to the earnest fourth, though they’re also on hand to provoke, and then sucker punch, the audience’s class prejudices. The party gets started after the kids are dropped off by a supervisor (Jonathan Aris) in the middle of the countryside. One of the naughty boys soon lights up a spliff rolled with a section of their only map — and then they’re off.
In movies about youth we often see adult filmmakers using their young characters to work through their many anxieties about their past, their present and their alarming, fast-darkening future. Given what happens, or rather what doesn’t, for much of this movie, writer-director Ninian Doff doesn’t appear especially exercised about much of anything. Mostly, he just winds these kids up and sets them loose into the wilderness, interrupting their stuttering progress with landscape beauty, hints of more strong violence and some playful hallucinations that allow him to show off his background in music videos, mostly because they feel pulled straight from a music video.
The editing is twitchy and relentless, the soundtrack is pummeling, but the actors are almost appealing enough to excuse the thinness of the material. And certainly the four leads — Viraj Juneja, Samuel Bottomley, Lewis Gribben, Rian Gordon — fill in their characters with personality that makes them recognizably, usefully human. By the time the masked, mysterious villains (Georgie Glenn and Eddie Izzard) materialize, the kids have stumbled into your sympathies. They’ve also proven so innocent, or at least so inept, that it’s clear you’re meant to root for them. That the masked enigmas, with their tweeds and posh accents, are more compelling than the boys is a problem that Doff never solves.
The even larger problem is that there isn’t enough narrative or aesthetics in Get Duked! to sustain its eighty-seven-minute runtime. The antagonists stir up some occasional, mild narrative tension simply by virtue of their weapons and enigmatic violence. But the ending of this tale is as preordained as the righteous lecture that is delivered in many movies when the exploited hero gets to tell off the baddies (the audience included, of course). Doff delivers the predictable finger wagging, but it comes far too late. The energetic freneticism often feels confident in Get Duked!, but it’s not long before it becomes deadening, glaringly displaying the film’s hollow core.
Get Duked! is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video