Ricky Baker is a bad kid. He's trouble. Big trouble.

The overweight orphan, who looks a bit like Cartman from South Park, has given a series of foster parents so much attitude over the years that no one will take him.

He's so bad, he doesn't think twice about spitting, throwing stuff, writing graffiti, and shoplifting.

"He's a bad egg," says his case worker, Paula (Rachel House), to the one couple left in all of New Zealand who agrees to foster the boy: Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hector (Sam Neill), an aging pair of world-class eccentrics who live far, far out in the countryside.

Portrayed by the amazing Kiwi teen Julian Dennison in a star turn, Ricky is the rebellious antihero in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a surreal, heart-melting comedy adventure set in New Zealand's wild bushlands.

Adapted from a Barry Crump novel, Hunt is the latest gem from writer-director Taika Waititi, who co-wrote and co-directed the incredible vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows.

It's as near perfect a film as I've ever seen.

Propelled by a wild mix of absurdist humor and pathos, Hunt is an epic coming-of-age story that has Ricky traverse a gauntlet of emotions and experiences. Bella offers him profound love and acceptance. Despite his preference for city life, Ricky and his dog, Tupac, grow to love life in the country.

Early in the film, Bella dies and Ricky is left alone with Hector, a misanthrope so affected by his loss, he lashes out at Ricky.

Then the two chase each other into the bush - and end up travelling across the wild countryside for more than five months. They're chased by cops, social workers, hunters, haters, and maladjusted parents who find it unacceptable that a 12-year-old boy and a 60-year-old man should just drop out of society.

The photography is lush, the dialogue uproarious, and the crazy action sequences unforgettable.

Like Wes Anderson's Rushmore, Hunt for the Wilderpeople magically taps into the logic, thought processes, and emotions of a child. It's a rich, strange, and wondrous world.




Hunt for the Wilderpeople

ssss (Out of four stars)

yDirected by Taika Waititi. With Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House. Distributed by The Orchard.

yRunning time: 1 hour, 41 mins.

yParent's guide: PG-13 (for thematic elements including violent content, and for some profanity).

yPlaying at: Ritz East.