Julian Dennison and Sam Neill in "Hunt For the Wilderpeople."

Movies

Hunt For the Wilderpeople Is a Pleasantly Oddball Family Film

A kid and his foster parent go on the run in the New Zealand bush.

There’s something about their oddly clipped accent that makes New Zealanders seem predisposed to offbeat comedy. Their vowels are turned strangely (to my American ears) inside out, as is their comic sensibility.

Of course I’m making this pronouncement based on the relatively small sample size of my own viewing of Kiwi productions — primarily the TV show Flight of the Conchords. But I’m going to stand by my assertion because it feels right, especially since writer-director Taika Waititi’s Hunt For the Wilderpeople reinforces my beliefs.

Waititi, himself a contributor to Conchords and a frequent collaborator with that show’s star, Jemaine Clement, has crafted a charming little comedy about a trouble-making orphan from the city who finds the family he’d long been denied when he’s taken to live on a farm deep in the bush.

It feels like we’re in for a relatively straightforward and sweet story about a new beginning for 13-year-old Ricky (Julian Dennison) until his caring foster mother Bella (Rima Te Wiata) dies. This prompts Ricky to run away into the countryside rather than be taken back into state custody. It’s only because curmudgeonly foster father Hec (Sam Neill) goes after him that Ricky manages to survive, and soon (because of a misunderstanding with some hunters they meet) the pair find themselves on the run from the police for months, outlaws living off the land.

The cartoonish tone of the proceedings is amped up as the lengths that the authorities go to in order to track Ricky and Hec down reach absurd levels. The villain, the dogged social worker Paula (Rachel House), repeatedly compares herself to “the Terminator” and Ricky to “Sarah Connor, in the first film, before she did chin-ups” — which tells you a lot about the movie’s sense of humor.

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