In the British comedy “Get Duked!,” four misfit adolescents come face to face with a familiar existential threat: other people. A three-minute cat-and-mouse cartoon optimistically stretched to feature length, the movie is loud, busy and cheerfully glib, though at one point — after the weapons and politics have been brandished — it takes a brief turn to sincerity. This doesn’t do much other than announce that it has more in mind than clichés and jokes about the lysergic dividends of rabbit scat.
There’s nothing wrong with poop jokes except when they’re not funny and after the first pellet gag the loamy possibilities of this source material diminishes. In the main, the humor in “Get Duked!” is more scattershot than scatological and leans hard on stupidity and the comedy of stereotypes. The story’s pretext is an award named for the Duke of Edinburgh, a.k.a. Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II. Through a regimen of exertion and self-reliance (carry on, blah blah blah), teen applicants better themselves. (The program is modeled on one created by the real duke in 1956, or roughly the period some of us know as the start of Season 2 of “The Crown.”)
Here, the four teens designated for self-improvement in the Scottish Highlands are Glaswegians. One is a nerd, while the other three are a typically mouthy, irreverent crew. Their rough lives are telegraphed by their accents, haircuts, eye rolls and the plastic wrapped around one guy’s shoes. These three mostly serve as a foil to the earnest fourth, though they’re also on hand to provoke, and then sucker punch, the audience’s class prejudices. The party gets started after the kids are dropped off by a supervisor (Jonathan Aris) in the middle of the countryside. One of the naughty boys soon lights up a spliff rolled with a section of their only map — and they’re off.
Youth may be wasted on the young but in movies it’s often hijacked by adults who use young characters to work through their many, many anxieties about their past, their present and their alarming, fast-darkening future. Given what happens, or rather doesn’t, for much of this movie, the writer-director Ninian Doff doesn’t appear especially exercised about anything too heavy. Mostly, he just winds these kids up and sets them loose in an exotic land, interrupting their stuttering progress with landscape beauty, intimations of more vehement violence and some playfully expressionistic hallucinations that allow him to show off his background in music video.
The scenery is pretty and the actors appealing enough to almost excuse the thinness of the material. And certainly the four leads — Viraj Juneja, Samuel Bottomley, Lewis Gribben, Rian Gordon — fill in their characters with personality that makes them recognizably, usefully human. By the time the masked, mysterious villains (Georgie Glenn and Eddie Izzard) materialize, the kids have stumbled into your sympathies. They’ve also proven so innocent, or at least so inept, that it’s clear you’re meant to root for them. That the masked enigmas, with their tweeds and posh accents, are more compelling than the boys is a problem that Doff never solves.
The larger issue is that there isn’t enough story or filmmaking in “Get Duked!” to sustain its 87 minutes running time. The villains stir up some mild narrative tension simply by virtue of their weapons and enigmatic violence. But the ending of this tale is as preordained as the righteous lecture that is delivered in many movies when the exploited hero finally gets to tell off the baddies (the audience included, of course). Doff delivers the predictable finger wagging. But given the ratio of sadism to comeuppance onscreen — and the energy of the meaner bits — it’s clear that the kids are most useful when, like one unfortunate sheep, they’re cleverly skewered.
Rated R for cartoonish gun, sword and fork violence. Running time: 1 hour 27 minutes. Watch on Amazon.