Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Beaver Fever: The best part about "Zombeavers" might be the title

Zombeavers (2015)
85 min., rated R.

What more do you need to know about "Zombeavers" beyond its inspired, to-the-point title? The joke is right there, but "Zombeavers" never succeeds on the glorious levels of "Snakes on a Plane," "Piranha 3D," or even the pair of "Sharknado" movies. Shot on the Walt Disney ranch next to where Old Yeller was shot, this micro-budget "B" horror-comedy is cheerfully dumb and harmless in its intentions but rarely ever lives up to its all-in-good-fun goal, either. Holding true to its word, it's outrageously silly and earnestly played without ever trying to be scary or even overtly spoofy, but in juggling laughs and gore, it's never as much fun or as crazy as those other animals-run-amok features. Worse, "Zombeavers" is more generic and amateurish than diverting in a Troma sort of way.

Stop me if you've heard this one before: a group of college co-eds at a cabin are terrorized by zombified beavers after a toxic-waste spill in the lake. Okay, maybe not the part about the zombified beavers. Mary (Rachel Melvin) and her sorority sisters, recently cheated-on Jenn (Lexi Atkins) and liberal-mouthed Zoe (Cortney Palm), go to her cousin's cabin in Indiana to swim in the lake and get Jenn's ex-boyfriend off her mind for the weekend. It's not long before the arrival of the girls' respective boyfriends, Tommy (Jake Weary), Sam (Hutch Dano) and Buck (Peter Gilroy). When Jenn still refuses to forgive Buck for hooking up with another girl, she goes to take a shower, only to find a raving, drooling beaver that Tommy ends up bashing over the head and killing. The next morning, the five of them go for a dip, while Jenn stays on shore, worried that there are more beavers. And, oh, there are, and as many times as the dumb kids kill them, the ferocious undead beavers keep on coming back to life. There is no cell phone reception, the nearest hospital is thirty miles away, and the only neighbors around is an old couple, Myrne and Winston Gregorson (Phyllis Katz, Brent Briscoe), as well as creepy hunter Smyth (Rex Linn). Worse, if one of them gets bit, he or she turns into a buck-toothed beaver.

Debuting writer-director Jordan Rubin and screenwriters Al Kaplan and Jon Kaplan don't make it a secret that they're not taking their premise seriously one bit. They must know the movie they're making is stupid as can be, but somehow, it took three—three!—brains to write this lark. When the three girlfriends get some rays on the lake raft, one question remains: who in their right mind, especially sorority girls, would go check out a beaver dam? "Is it on, like, steroids or something?" one of them questions after the beavers start attacking. "Does it look like a baseball player?" Zoe retorts. Also, there are plenty of "beaver" puns. When one of the guys gets his foot chomped off, Zoe suggests using her bikini top to stop the bleeding. And, amidst all of the carnage, with beavers biting through the wooden floorboards on the other side of the door, two characters begin to have sex in the bathroom anyway. This is intentionally dumb stuff, but not smart enough to be self-knowing and work in the ways the "spam-in-a-cabin" tropes were satirized in 2011's "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil" and 2012's "The Cabin in the Woods."

Barely having enough to withstand feature-length, the 85-minute "Zombeavers" is surprising at least in the order of who's a goner and who's not. The actors, including Rachel Melvin (2014's "Dumb and Dumber To") and Peter Gilroy as the always-horny lout of the bunch, competently fulfill their requirements of playing broad-stroked stereotypes, showing their bare bodies on occasion and looking scared on command, despite the clearly ridiculous nature of being terrorized by rabid beavers that are obviously puppets. And, of all people, a mustachioed John Mayer gives an amusing cameo in the opening and closing moments as one of the careless truck drivers, alongside comedian Bill Burr, transporting the hazardous waste. Unfortunately, there's not enough wit or much inspiration and really nothing special here to contribute to this schlocky subgenre. Yes, "Zombeavers" delivers the gory, over-the-top payoffs that one is expecting, especially once the kids start turning into the critters, but few moments actually stand out. Maybe in the right frame of mind (a few libations might be recommended to enhance the experience), you might surrender to the movie's goofy, so-bad-it's-good appeal. 

Grade: C - 

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