The influential power of Danny Boyle’s drug-freakout cult classic “Trainspotting” is alive and well for a generation of filmmakers even 25 years later, and its legacy as an ADD-addled dark comedy is most recently apparent in “Get Duked!” The feature directorial debut of music video and short filmmaker Ninian Doff, originally going by the vexing title of “Boyz in the Wood,” is a high-energy four-hander about a group of teens who set out into the Scottish Highlands on a camping competition trip. And its energy is perhaps too high, bouncing from one set piece to another so much that it becomes almost dizzying. But that’s fitting for a movie about a quartet of Generation Zers stuck in the wilderness and deprived of their smartphones. Still, “Get Duked!” offers plenty of zany charms even when it can’t sit still, which is almost never. Patient, slow cinema this is not.
“Get Duked!” gets off to an immediately overcaffeinated start, and pretty much maintains that level of energy, as Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan (Lewis Gribben), and DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juenja) are thrust into participating in the Duke Edinburgh Award. It’s an elaborate, generations-old, morale-building exercise program meant to test their mettle in the outdoors. The trio are eager to run riot in the woods and smoke pot, but their plans are interrupted when they’re saddled with straight-and-narrow, homeschooled introvert Ian (Samuel Bottomley).
Also raining on their parade, which involves veering wildly off course and into middle-of-nowhere farmland, are the Duke (Eddie Izzard) and Duchess (Georgie Glen), who hunt humans for sport and sets their mark on the protagonists. Their motivations are, at first, unclear. The boys continue to hatch clever ways to outrun and outsmart their masked would-be assassins, leading to many unexpected bursts of slapstick violence, where hideous deaths like being plowed into a pancake by a large van are played for laughs. A big, bloody ado awaits in the film’s final moments. Until then, the cat-and-mouse chase becomes a kind of updated “The Most Dangerous Game,” especially as cops Sergeant Morag (Kate Dickie) and PC Hamish (Kevin Guthrie) close in, and acts of violence turn increasingly sadistic.
“Get Duked!” is mostly a playground for its four male leads, who have plenty of charisma among themselves and roguish charm when they’re on their own. A sequence involving rabbit pellets — scatological humor abounds — containing psilocybin mushrooms is a blast. The scene affords some tripped-out visuals, including melting, undulating faces, and another opportunity for Viraj Juenja to perform one of his over-the-top hip-hop routines, which are mostly filled with dick jokes. Juenja is the most winsome young actor of the group, but also the one given the most material from which to build a personality.
With twitchy, relentless editing from writer/director Doff and co-editor Ross Hallard, as well as zippy dialogue and a pummeling soundtrack of many flavors, “Get Duked!” isn’t lacking confidence. But all the aesthetic bells and whistles tend to distract from the fact that there isn’t much of a center, or story, here. Still, Doff is obviously an assured filmmaker with a firm hand on his material and a distinctive vision to bolster it. The movie’s loudmouthed, in-your-face style will hardly be to any casual viewer’s liking, but for some, “Get Duked!” is probably a cult classic waiting to happen.
“Get Duked” is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.