Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Cinema File #20: "Nature Calls" Review

Damn you Patton Oswalt, why did you spend your entire career being awesome just to fool me into thinking this movie wouldn't suck? It seems like a long way to go, all things considered.

You might not have heard of this movie. I certainly didn't until I saw a poster for it online and noticed Patton Oswalt was in it. Nature Calls is a comedy, at least according to the description I read, about a boy scout leader played by Patton Oswalt who basically abducts a group of kids from a slumber party hosted by his brother and takes them out in the woods for a camping trip to teach them about the glory and honor of the scouts. I don't know how so many funny people decided this was a worthy endeavor, but after seeing Oswalt, Rob Riggle, and Patrice Oneil in what may just be his last film work so hard to justify such flat, shitty material, every ensuing minute just makes me feel sadder and sadder. Johnny Knoxville and Darrell Hammond I understand. As much as I actually like both of them, they have a habit of signing on to really crappy movies, with this only being the latest for both of them. And my word is it a piece of shit.

Its not even a situation where the potential for comedy is squandered, because that potential doesn't seem to actually exist. You know all these people can be funny, but they never come anywhere near a situation where they might actually be able to mine humor out of anything. Its like they are going out of their way to make unfunny situations even unfunnier, and every time they might be tempted to start being funny, they nip that shit in the bud as soon as they possibly can. I'd say marginally speaking, Rob Riggle and Patrice Oneil carry the movie, and so as you might expect, they seem to exit the movie at the quickest opportunity. There are brief spots here and there that get a laugh, mostly towards the end as the situation begins to unravel. A few explosions and a massive crucifix are involved, and I must say I did start to chuckle a bit just as the thing was wrapping up. To say the punch line isn't worth the journey is an amazing understatement.

I don't understand why Patton Oswalt isn't being used more to his full potential here. I'm not saying he has to be vulgar to be funny, because I know he doesn't, but its not like this movie is shy about that sort of thing, and his character is so tame that it seems pointless for someone as funny as he is to be filling that role. He brings nothing to it that a Kevin James or otherwise less biting and acerbic personality wouldn't have. Oswalt showed up for like a minute in Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World, and in one drunken, pussy-centric monologue, easily became the single funniest moment in that entire film. Here, he's basically a straight man, and I have to wonder why the hell you would waste such a talent on someone who is not supposed to be, or apparently trying to be, funny.

The tone seems all over the place as well, and I think the movie might have benefited from either embracing a more dark and adult sensibility, or going all the way in the other direction and making it a family film. Instead it sort of hovers somewhere in between, never satisfying in either case. I also don't really know what the movie is trying to say, if anything. A large part of the plot centers around Knoxville's taciturn adopted son from Africa who seems to embrace the boy scout life more than anyone else, but I can't figure out exactly what I am supposed to take from this by the end. The resolution I guess teaches the dad a lesson about letting his son be free to make his own decisions in life, but that didn't seem to be set up as a major issue before hand, and none of the characters are developed well enough to hang any sort of significant arcs onto them.

And the side characters are, for the most part, just weird. The two co-scout leaders are played by unknowns, or at least I don't know them, and I think one of them is supposed to be high all the time, and the other might be foreign. I don't know, I never get a good sense of their characters. Darrell Hammond seems to be playing his cop character as intentionally child molestery. That's the only phrase I can come up with to describe it. At some point they go to an outdoor party, and I guess he's forcing them to be there, or something, I'm not sure. None of it comes to anything, and most importantly, none of it is all that funny.

If you have a chance to see this movie at any point, I would say stay away if you can help it. Don't be fooled by the pedigree of the cast. None of them bring their A game, and I get the sense that even if they did, the material still wouldn't have been strong enough that it would have mattered. To end on a self important douche note, Nature Calls is not worth the pool of urine from which it gets its name.

Beat that wordplay Ebert!

For more reviews in The Cinema File, CLICK HERE
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