You’ll likely be only slightly less disoriented than the titular four young lads alluded to in “Boyz in the Wood” when you are thrust into the Scottish Highlands with a verve that typically accompanies Edgar Wright comedies. Writer/director Ninian Doff makes a strong case he’s got that kind of career trajectory ahead in adapting his short of the same name into a feature that may not have much more in terms of plot, but generously spreads its laughs over 80 minutes.
Doff doesn’t waste much time in setting things up, presenting a canned promotional video for the Duke of Edinburgh Challenge, a rugged trek dreamed up by a surely deranged member of the monarchy in 1956 that lets loose a quartet of delinquents from the city and forces them to learn teamwork by reaching the summit of the Highlands together. You can only imagine what this went like in previous years, but since presumably no parents could ever afford to sue if their child died during the treacherous retreat, we’re introduced to Dean (Rian Gordon), DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja), Duncan (Lewis Gribben) and Ian (Samuel Bottomley), who feels left out for reasons besides his name not starting with a “D” since he’s actually excited about the open-air adventure. Quick-cut montages present a sliver of backstory to imply how the boyz ended up in the woods, but character development is of less use to Doff than relating to them in their collective moment of panic and the writer/director puts considerably more energy into making the great outdoors truly unknown territory, populating the hills with the titular Duke, a masked gunman (Eddie Izzard) who feels overly protective of his Highlands heritage, as well as an intrepid Scotland Yard police inspector (Kate Dickie) whose chase for the culprit behind the town’s bread supply crosses paths with the kids and naturally, the unpredictable whims of the great outdoors.
Every second of “Boyz in the Woods” is utterly ridiculous, but the silliness only contributes to how funny it is and as with any action comedy worth its salt, the dynamic visuals only sharpen the punchlines. There’s a literal running gag involving the boys’ minder Mr. Carlyle (Jonathan Aris), who spends much of the film confined to a van, that pays off spectacularly, and Doff‘s history as a music video director for the likes of Run the Jewels proves useful when DJ Beatroot launches into rapping about the size of his manhood (Sample lyric: “They call it the Loch Ness Monster because it’s a mystery.”) The presence of Izzard and “Prevenge” star Alice Lowe, who appears in one choice scene as the Scottish Yard commander brought in like Tommy Lee Jones’ Sam Gerard in “The Fugitive,” lend street cred to the proceedings, but there’s enough confidence on display in Doff’s direction that it achieves it on its own and watching the quartet of boys find a way to focus their rambunctiousness towards something mighty, you have to appreciate how the filmmaker has done the same in this spirited debut.
“Boyz in the Wood” does not yet have U.S. distribution.