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“The Death Of Dick Long” Is A Very Odd Duck

Where to begin here? Sometimes, a film can paint itself into a corner that it never quite gets out of. Such is the case with The Death of Dick Long, which opens this week and is hiding a hell of a reveal midway through. With no exaggeration, it’s one of the most unexpected moments in cinema this year. However, that’s the point where the tale begins to crumble, ultimately proving ever so slightly unworthy of the time investment. A boldly unique work, it sadly can’t quite stick the second half, preventing one from actually embracing it as audiences might otherwise have.

The movie is a self proclaimed backwoods noir, one tinged with some black comedy. Zeke Olsen (Michael Abbott Jr.), Earl Wyeth (Andre Hyland), and Dick Long (Daniel Scheinert, also the director) are buddies, who spend many a night practicing with their band. Or, at least they spend some portions of the evenings practicing, as once Zeke’s wife Lydia (Virginia Newcomb) goes to bed, they mostly party. Then, one fateful night, they opt to “get a little weird” and Dick ends up dead. Zeke and Earl dump him at the hospital, terrified that anyone will find out how he died. That choice will have far reaching consequences, as a medical examiner (Roy Wood Jr.), two cops (Sarah Baker and Janelle Cochrane), and Dick’s wife (Jess Weixler) all become involved, as well as suspicious of just what happened. Earl can keep his cool, but for Zeke, his guilt and paranoia grow. The aforementioned Daniel Scheinert directs a screenplay by Billy Chew, with cinematography from Ashley Connor, as well as a score from Andy Hull and Robert McDowell. Rounding out the cast are Poppy Cunningham, Sunita Mani, and more.

There’s a point at which the film runs out of gas, and unfortunately, that’s right after the absurd revelation at the midway point. For a solid 40 minutes or so, this darkly comedic noir has your attention. Alas, from then on, it’s a case of diminishing returns, even after one of the strangest twists of 2019. Scribe Billy Chew and director Daniel Scheinert (one half of the filmmaking team “The Daniels,” who, along with Daniel Kwan, made Swiss Army Man a few years ago) get decent mileage out of wondering how Dick died, then seeing the reactions of folks once they find out how, but aside from that, there’s a lot of close calls and not much in the way of plot.

The Death of Dick Long seems built around its reveal. Notions of toxic masculinity or small town life are given short shrift, despite hints that they’re going to play a bigger role once we’re given all of the information at hand. Mainly, the flick just never quite knows what to do with itself after the big shock, opting to mostly spin its wheels. Chew and Scheinert somehow manage to find the least interesting way to wrap the story up, which is a shame. Considering all of the directions they could have gone in with the third act especially, it’s a notable disappointment.

Come this weekend, audiences may well be curious to find out the mystery of The Death of Dick Long, and the reveal itself is almost enough to make the movie worth seeing. If more was done to justify the story, aside from that outrageous moment, I’d be on board as well. Alas, that’s not the case, and the film winds up a bit of a letdown. You may still be curious, but if you decide to check it out, keep your expectations decidedly in check…

The Death of Dick Long hits theaters on Friday.

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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