Friday, November 9, 2012

Nature Calls (C)

(It is impossible to write a review for this film without mentioning the ending, so a spoiler alert is in place)

This has been a particularly difficult review to write, because frankly, I have no real idea how to address this movie. It's completely enigmatic, in that it's never clear whether director Todd Rohal intended his feature to be a pitch black, played straight parody of the 70's styled slob-com, or a horribly misguided attempt to recreate this sub-genre for a present day audience. The plot involves a 40 year old man who remains obsessed with Boy Scouts (Patton Oswalt), who abducts a group of children from a sleepover hosted by his egocentric brother (Johnny Knoxville), and takes them camping in a restricted forest with his dying mute grandfather. Once they arrive at the camp site, he forces the kids to stay with him, and learn about the wilderness and manhood, because no one other than him knows the way home. However, Oswalt is a horrible scout leader; he curses in front of the kids, refuses to acknowledge their requests, and gives them cigarettes on multiple occasions. Meanwhile, Knoxville and two of his somewhat psychotic friends (Rob Riggle and Patrice O'Neal) hope to track down the group for almost the sole purpose of brutally attacking Oswalt in retribution for his crimes. Laughing yet?

While there are admittedly some shoehorned moments of sweetness throughout, upon first glance, it would still be simple to write the feature off as a dispiriting throwback to 70's slob-coms. However, it's the ending is what makes the film such an enigma: The conclusion is so radiantly jubilant and optimistic that to call it a "happy ending" wouldn't do it the least bit of justice. It goes beyond the mere realms of a happy ending into such a blissful state of joyfulness and pleasantness that it can only be compared to the culmination sequence of Martin Scorsese's 1983 classic The King of Comedy. After getting a glimpses into the feature's heart of darkness over the course of its 79 minute runtime, most notably in a tone altering brutal fight between Oswalt and Knoxville, it's beyond bizarre that Rohal would conclude in such a treacly and saccharine manner. This leaves me with three theories about the ending:

1. Oswalt is an unreliable narrator. Because the final moments of the film are described by Oswalt's narration, it could be possible that they are entirely fictional, and only exist within his own disturbed mind. Discovering that you've essentially been abducted by a possible madman could potentially traumatize any child, so the likelihood that the trip impacted their lives for the better seems incredibly miniscule. Also, the thought that the parents would allow him to ride off into the sunset without facing any form of consequence is downright impossible to imagine. If this theory is correct, it would imply that Rohl failed to set up the unreliable narrator well enough within the story.

2. Rohl had no idea what he was doing the entire time. This seems like the least viable option of the three, mostly because of the general acclaim he received for previous films The Catechism Cataclysm and The Guatemalan Handshake. Though I admittedly haven't seen either, both are award winning independents which have gained a minor cult following since their initial release. It's difficult to believe someone with experience, who has also already made two well regarded features, would end a film like this on accident.

3. Rohl was making some sort of meta statement about how movies of this ilk typically end, but the message became muddled due to shoddy editing. In my opinion, this is most likely the correct theory. The change from a somewhat syrupy middle section to brief spout of violent insanity, and then quickly returning to an even sweeter pile of goo has to mean something. However, the purpose of the sugary ending became obscured due to a strange desire to cut the film down to a bare bones 79 minutes.

It's difficult to grade a film I'm not even completely sure I fully understand, but despite some gaping flaws, I'll go with a C. For what some may consider to be a hackneyed riff of the 70s comedies of old, it was surprisingly thought provoking; despite not being mentally stimulating in the way the director probably intended. It's not particularly funny or engaging, but it's an interesting enigma.

Grade: C

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