Reviewed on October 7, 2019
The Death of Dick Long director Daniel Scheinert is best known as one half of Daniels, the envelope-pushing filmmaking duo made up of Scheinert and Dan Kwan.
They’re the guys that gave us the outstanding living dude/corpse buddy comedy Swiss Army Man and the infamous, uproariously gross music video for Turn Down for What. Together, Daniels are known for sharp visuals, gross body humor, and sophomoric gags executed with impressive precision and commitment to the bit.
Solo, it turns out, Scheinert maintains his love of gross humor and goofy shocks. The sharpness, on the other hand, is sorely lacking. The Death of Dick Long is a 100-minute movie built around a single joke. The film takes half the running time to tell this joke, and the other half trying to convince us that it was worth the wait. It’s not.
What’s It About?
Ne’er-do-well buddies Zeke (Michael Abbott Jr.), Earl (Andre Hyland), and Dick (Scheinert, in a brief performance) have been hanging out together for years in their small Alabama town. Their friendship consists mostly of band practice in Zeke’s basement (the cleverest thing these guys have ever done is call their band Pink Freud) and getting wasted.
One night, Dick suggests the guys get high, and things get out of hand. The next thing we know, Zeke and Earl are rushing their friend to the hospital and dumping him right outside the door, not bothering to stick around and tell anyone what’s happened or find out if Dick is OK. Dick dies of his injuries during the night, and Zeke and Earl spend the rest of the film trying to cover up the unspoken series of events that led to Dick’s fatal injury. Meanwhile, the local cops are trying to get to the bottom of the dead John Doe (Dick) in the mortuary, and are starting to close in on Zeke, who’s having a harder and harder time keeping up his facade of ignorance.
The premise of The Death of Dick Long is a promising one, and the revelation of what ultimately happened to the ill-fated Dick is shocking enough that, had it been pulled off well, it could have turned the rest of the movie into the icky parody it so desperately wants to be. There’s the beginning of a good idea here, and that’s worth noting, even if the beginning is all it really is.
Hyland is also a standout as Earl, and he plays the role of the foulmouthed loser to absolute perfection. Earl is that guy you went to high school with who only listened to Staind and Papa Roach and dropped out after sophomore year. Hyland seems to know this character so well that if you didn’t look at his IMDB page, you’d think he was this guy. He’s not on screen enough, but when he is, the movie instantly becomes funnier.
The first half of The Death of Dick Long withholds crucial information about what happened to Dick — or really any details about it — for as long as it possibly can. This would be fine if there was at least something to go on, some details about other things that happened that night, the geography of the town, or some clue that the audience could try to figure out. But Scheinert gives us nothing. That leaves the audience with a pair of dummies trying to hastily cover up an apparent crime that we know nothing about, which makes it hard to get on board.
When that information finally is revealed, it is indeed shocking, but it’s hardly worth the amount of secrecy the movie has shown us up to that point. Dick’s fate is basically the punchline to what should be a weird, hilarious joke. But up until Zeke shares what happened, we have no clue what the joke actually is, and no reason to care much about any of the characters involved. The punchline is not only goofy, but without a proper setup, it falls totally flat.
The other way to interpret The Death of Dick Long is that it’s trying to parody serious crime dramas set in rural communities, like Winter’s Bone, Mud, or even No Country for Old Men. But if it is, it’s more insulting to the character types than it is any storytelling tropes. Scheinert makes sure we catch a flash of a Confederate flag on someone’s door early on, so we know where our protagonists stand politically. He also makes them fans of nu metal, arguably the most hated musical genre to come out of the 2000s. Scheinert wants to make sure we have as little respect as possible for these characters. When Dick’s cause of death is finally revealed, this reading of the movie suggests that maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised. These guys are dumb, racist rednecks, after all.
The Death of Dick Long is a self-indulgent movie that does a disservice to the skills Scheinert has proven he possesses in his other work. It might have worked as a short film — in fact, it could have made a great one — but as a feature film, it feels like it’s stretched way too thin. The movie is not as funny as it thinks it is, though it is perhaps a good deal meaner.