Thursday, November 8, 2012

Idiotic, baffling "Nature Calls" gets lost in the woods

Nature Calls (2012)
85 min., rated R.

"Nature Calls" has no links to Adam Sandler's Happy Madison banner, but it manages to be even more lazy, flat, condescending, mean-spirited, obnoxious, and unfunny than any of those harmlessly sloppy comedies. Independent writer-director Todd Rohal's sorry follow-up to 2011's "The Catechism Cataclysm" is so baffling that it feels made on the spot without any script, casting calls, rehearsals, or advance preparation. 

Devoted scoutmaster Randy Stevens (Patton Oswalt) just wants his father's approval, so he plans a campout in a parking lot, which none of his scouts go for. Instead, his troop ends up at the McMansion of Randy's brother Kirk (Johnny Knoxville), a successful ATM installer, for a TV-watching sleepover with Dwande (Thiecoura Cissoko), Kirk and his wife Janine's (Maura Tierney) adopted son from Africa. With his wheelchair-bound father and two knucklehead friends (Eddie Rouse, Ivan Dimitrov) in tow, Randy changes the minds of all ten scouts, hijacking them from Kirk's house and venturing into the deep, unauthorized outdoors of the Munnson State Park and Reserve for a camping trip they'll never forget.

"Nature Calls" is such a mess, a wacky would-be comedy that's so aimless and devoid of a point or any entertainment value. Is it a father-son story, a lowbrow comedy, a sibling-rivalry tale, or an adults-and-kids comedy akin to "The Bad News Bears"? Whatever it is, none of the ingredients work. Rohal's witless screenplay takes on so many absurdist, anything-goes threads and non-sequitur happenings, and seems to have no idea what to do with them. A naked woman randomly shows up on a motorcycle; sure, why not? Once Randy is trapped inside of a sleeping bag, Kirk set on fire, and their father barbecued, one gets the feeling the filmmaker has lost his mind.

For every ugly, one-dimensional caricature is a mugging actor. Oswalt and Knoxville never convince that they're brothers from a complete lack of chemistry. After going to some daringly dark depths in "Big Fan" and "Young Adult," Oswalt falls back into earnest schlub mode, but playing the inscrutably obsessed Randy is a forgettable waste of his talent. And Knoxville's work, parlaying from his fame on MTV's "Jackass," is less than charmless. Rob Riggle is doing his usual rowdy, noxious hothead routine as Kirk's ATM security guard/cohort Gentry, whom audiences would like to personally strangle to death. Darrell Hammond pops up for no reason as a weird, homoerotic park ranger. Making his final appearance, Patrice O'Neal also comes in as a father whose son was mistakenly told by Randy that Dad was dead and angrily comes to join Kirk and Gentry. "In Living Color" veteran Kelly Coffield Park gets to play overprotective PTA mom shtick whose son has never had a sleepover with an African boy. 

The only appealing exception: Maura Tierney, bless her heart, seems like she was finangled into this project. She spends most of the movie being discriminated by Kirk and Gentry and told to stay in the kitchen, or fending off a creepy 12-year-old suitor (Regan Mizrahi). From what the eye can see, there's no reason why Janine and Kirk are together, and you just feel bad for the actress.

Dark comedies are best played with intelligence and truth, but Rohal's idea of dark humor is having contempt for his characters, as when the Knoxville character gets tied to a crucifix (one of the kids calls it a stretcher "like the one in the Bible"). His direction just has a total disregard for tone and cohesion. Finally, the film takes a 180-degree turn that wants to be touching and life-affirming, but it's anything but. Going for a hike and falling onto a hill of fire ants would be a much more pleasurable experience than sitting through this carcass. "Nature Calls" is calling to be pissed on.

Grade: D -

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