Rating: 1.5/5Last year, writer/director Todd Rohal released The Catechism Cataclysm, a strange, dark comedy if there ever was one. By turns poetic, abrasive and crude, it was a daring film that was willing to balance high volume idiocy against oblique philosophy and mostly came out for the better. Then there’s his follow-up, Nature Calls. Though it shares much of the same DNA as Rohal’s last film, it’s a thoroughly unpleasant and dispiriting movie, a comedy without laughs or a clear sense of its message. Even worse, it wastes a ringer of a cast by shooting for the loudest, worst behavior at every turn.
Randy Stevens (Patton Oswalt) is a true blue Boy Scoutmaster, raised by a father legendary for inspiring generations of Scouts. His brother Kirk (Johnny Knoxville), on the other hand, rejected the discipline and antiquated principles of the troop and has become a douchey businessman hawking overpriced private ATMs to supermarkets and churches. This backstory is quickly relayed by means of a charmingly old-fashioned series of drawings in the style of ‘50s advertisements, and this is the first and last gasp of anything approaching coherence or style in Nature Calls. After Randy’s plans for a camping trip with his meager troop are kyboshed by the kids’ preference for a sleepover at Kirk’s home filled with HD televisions, milkshakes and box seats, he crashes the party and convinces them to trek out into the woods without permission. Along with his elderly father and a pair of goofy assistant scoutmasters, Randy tries to teach the kids how to be Scouts while Kirk, his idiot friend Gentry (Rob Riggle) and one kid’s father, Mr. Caldwell (the late Patrice O’Neal in his final role), attempt to track them down before other parents find out.
But that synopsis makes Nature Calls sound far more interesting and well-constructed than it is. The film is stuffed with random happenings (such as a naked woman who cruises a motorcycle through the woods for some reason) and undeveloped characters (like Kirk’s adopted African son, played wordlessly by Thiecoura Cissoko) and really not much actual narrative logic. Except for Kirk’s wife Janine (Maura Tierney) and Randy, all the characters communicate through shouting and relentless profanity, to the point that it would be easier to have multiple actors simply beat their chests and howl at each other rather than saddle them with actual dialogue. In particular, Riggle’s Gentry, a dimwitted, chauvinistic security guard, is so idiotic and prone to verbal violence that it simply defies belief that anyone would ever take a moment to listen to him, let alone trust him to watch over children.
The only thing that redeems Nature Calls is Oswalt, who plays Randy with a half-angry, half-wistful sadness that he’s missed the glory days of Scouting. The film periodically breaks for poetic voiceovers from the Scoutmaster that hearken back to a time period in which parental paranoia did not prevent young boys from learning skills and teamwork in the great outdoors, but even this potentially interesting theme is largely dropped in favor of a “get the kids home before their parents find out” subplot that involves Darrell Hammond as a creepy Forest Ranger and more screaming. As a film, Nature Calls is an out-and-out misfire, neither earning laughs nor sharing the subversive edge of The Catechism Cataclysm. While it’s a failure of a movie, it does prove one thing: Rohal can do far better.