Feel like veering off the map this summer?
Then the adventure film “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” belongs on your must-see list. Adapted from Barry Crump’s “Wild Pork and Watercress” and made with a tiny budget in the New Zealand bush by director Taika Waititi, “Wilderpeople” stars a chubby, rap-loving foster kid named Ricky (Julian Dennison) stuck living with a family in the backcountry.
Though his new foster mom loves him, the troubled child ends up on the lam, running from authorities in the wild with his grizzled foster “uncle” Hector (Sam Neill) — and becoming a national fixture in the process.
The “Odd Couple”-style romp through the bush won raves at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, with the Hollywood Reporter calling it “a deliciously good time at the movies.”
“I love classic buddy flicks,” says Waititi, citing classic comedies such as “48 Hours” and “Planes, Trains & Automobiles.” “Anything with two diametrically opposed character types that get shoved together.”
In a summer packed with sequels and superheroes, Waititi says he wanted Ricky’s plight to feel within reach.
“I grew up on all those films which were kind of fantasy films set in the real world, like ‘Goonies,’ ” says Waititi, who had an outdoorsy upbringing in New Zealand before building his career in the USA with films like the 2010 coming-of-age drama “Boy” and his 2014 vampire mockumentary “What We Do in the Shadows.” “So a kid watching ‘Wilderpeople’ is like, ‘I could do that, I could run away to the bush and have the whole country looking for me and have an adventure.’ ”
What does Dennison, who first worked with Waititi on a drunk-driving commercial several years ago, remember most about shooting for five weeks in New Zealand’s frigid backcountry? “M-U-D,” the 13-year-old spells out over Skype with a grin. “A lot of mud. … I once got stuck in knee-high mud.”
Across the ocean, New Zealanders have turned “Wilderpeople” into the country’s No. 1 box-office hit of all time (the titleholder had been Waititi’s “Boy”). Neill, who grew up in New Zealand (and memorably starred in the “Jurassic Park” franchise), calls Waititi “kind of crazily inventive. His imagination is so rich, it probably needs reining in more than anything else.”
Now Waititi’s signature blend of wry comedy and action is Marvel-approved: As he talks, Waititi is surreptitiously showing off some concept art for his next project, “Thor: Ragnarok,” in theaters next year.
A few things change with hundreds of millions of Disney dollars at one’s disposal.
Typically on set, “I’ll turn up and, like, have completely re-written [a scene] or added a character and cast someone from the crew,” says Waititi, laughing. “With ‘Thor,’ for obvious reasons you have to be a little bit more rigid, because there are 200 more people who are affected by any crazy decision you make.”