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film review

A sullen boy tired of bouncing around foster care. A curmudgeonly widower with no interest in children. A child-services rep desperate to instill order to the system. Those may sound like the perfect ingredients for a saccharine drama about loving and learning, but in writer-director Taika Waititi's hands, they're merely the necessary elements to concoct a subversive, wildly entertaining comedy about the power of misfits and the strength of good humour. At nearly every point in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, it seems like the story might take the easy way out and devolve into cheap sentimentality as Ricky (Julian Dennison) struggles to survive in the New Zealand bush with his taciturn caretaker Hec (Sam Neill, giving a career-best perforfmance). Instead, Waititi (who's also responsible for the best comedy of 2015, What We Do in the Shadows, and will next tackle the third Thor film) executes a series of deft narrative U-turns, twisting the tale into 101 minutes of pure comic joy. (PG) –Barry Hertz