Review: Nature Calls
PLOT: Hoping to earn the respect of his father and his scout troop, a mild-mannered scout leader hijacks his brother’s sons’ sleepover. Taking the children on a camping trip without the parent’s permission takes on some serious consequence when his brother comes searching for the missing children.
Ah wilderness! How nice it would be to have gone out into the wild instead of watching the latest Patton Oswalt flick NATURE CALLS. This seemingly well-intentioned comedy carries a few laughs early on, yet it becomes unfocused, strained and surprisingly grim. Imagine if THE BAD NEWS BEARS started taking steroids and lit their coach on fire. If you can picture that you might be ready for this uneven story of feuding brothers with father issues.
Early on, there was a certain charm as a ne’er do well scout leader looking for his father’s approval goes on a scout camping trip from hell. Randy (Oswalt) lives and breathes the Boy Scouts while his more successful brother Kirk (Johnny Knoxville) had long since given up on such a fanciful notion. The entire story focuses on Randy as he convinces his charge of young troops to go to the woods on a camping trip without Kirk and the rest of their parent’s permission. Of course things get ugly when Kirk finds out that Randy has taken his adopted son Dwande (Thiecoura Cissoko) as well as their wheelchair bound father along for the ride.
The humor plays out with a touch of heart for the first half of the film as Randy clearly has the best intentions for his crusade. Oswalt has a real knack for playing the oddball character that has a heart of gold. In fact, his performance here is very good as is the connection he shares with the young troops played by Cissoko and a handful of young actors. If NATURE CALLS had put a little more focus on the idea of learning to grow for all of these kids – as well as Randy – it might have made for a better film. Yet at about the half-way point the story just deteriorates into a bunch of stupid characters doing ridiculous things.
Among the supporting players, Rob Riggle and Patrice O’Neal (who sadly passed away in 2011) portray a couple of friends of Kirk. While both are very funny actors, they play the most annoyingly inept and moronic couple of buffoons. Neither funny, nor even interesting, their entire sub-plot is a complete waste of time. Whether they are shooting at children or just yelling at each other, they only serve as a very lame joke that fails to raise even a chuckle. Aside from Maura Tierney as Kirk’s wife – who is one of the film’s only likable characters - most of the supporting adult roles are infuriatingly obnoxious.
As short as NATURE CALLS is, it ultimately feels too long. The entire story is so blatantly simple that it could have been done as a short on “Funny or Die” and been much more affective. I do give them credit for going much darker than you’d expect as some of this flick is pretty damn grim. The last half hour features a few moments that are slightly disturbing. Trust me when I say that the Bluetooth gag is absolutely twisted as well as the crucifixion references. Yet writer/director Todd Rohal seems to back off before the humor really stings. If you are going to go for the crude and rude, just do it. For me it felt as if – as black as this comedy was – they just shied away from taking it too far.
NATURE CALLS was a funny idea that just needed a little restructuring. Patton Oswalt and Johnny Knoxville were good enough as the feuding brothers and Maura Tierney as Kirk’s wife was a breath of fresh air as one of the few likable characters. However, the short running time and the failure to really expand on the story just made for a lazy and crass film that offers only the occasional laugh.