After seeing Josh Brolin sweep summer box office proceeds into his trousers like a cartoon bank robber in such features as Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2, and, most recently, Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado, it’s refreshing to see him not portraying a villain in Jody Hill’s The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter. In it, he plays Buck Ferguson, a celebrity outdoorsman who could have swaggered right in from a John Ford picture. You know the type; liquor in a tin cup, meat over an open fire, the noble pain of a thousand manly lifetimes etched across a mustachioed, weather-worn grimace. The unwieldy title is just the kind of thing a matter-of-fact man like Buck Ferguson might come up with.
Buck’s well-known for a series of homemade videos in which he monologues about good old-fashioned family values while offing big game – hunting, of course, being one of the most sacred rural traditions. While he’s liable to lay it on thick for his cameraman, Don (Hill’s lifelong muse Danny McBride), Brolin treats the character with a charming seriousness, giving little indication that he’s even aware of the film’s broader mission of parody. In a sense, though, and as always with Hill, parody might not even be the aim; the men in his films are typically thick-headed and childish, but there’s more to them than just that. This archaic mode of masculinity is ripe for mockery, but The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter manages to find something at least respectable in knowing and being comfortable with who you are – even if it is someone who openly enjoys processed cheese slices.
In what promises to be a very special episode of his TV show, Buck takes his estranged 12-year-old son Jaden (newcomer Montana Jordan) on a hunting weekend so the boy can execute a whitetail deer of the title – honorably, of course. The adventure is intended as a father-son bonding experience to repair the relationship that continues to fray as Buck’s ex-wife (Carrie Coon), Jaden’s mother, is shacked up with a weaselly beta male played by Scoot McNairy, who’s better-suited to Jaden’s surly, tweenage disposition. To make the distinction between the men as clear as possible, Jaden’s new step-dad gifts him an assault weapon, which he prefers over the old family hunting rifle that Buck bequeaths him for the occasion. Buck’s response to such is, I suppose, in relatively bad taste: “This ain’t a school shooting.”
You’d assume from that line that The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter looks to tap into a darker, edgier strain of comedy, but it remains a knockabout experience. Eventually it takes an unconvincing turn into sort-of seriousness, and it never really has that vibe of deliberate, controversy-baiting impoliteness. It’s a wildly uneven film, and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t find Montana Jordan to be an indescribably grating presence, but Brolin’s sincerity and enthusiasm are winning.