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A mediocre film from a man who has better things to be doing
Nature Calls is the last film I'd expect from Todd Rohal, who directed the eccentric mixed-bag that was Guatemalan Handshake and the hugely questionable but watchable Catechism Cataclysm, among a wide variety of short films in the nineties. Rohal's style seemed as if he would shy away from anything remotely in the same vein as Nature Calls, a farce centered around a boy scouts trip in the woods. I expected Rohal's next project to be quirky, but what I didn't expect it to be was conventional.
Just by his five short films and two feature films, I knew Rohal was something different in cinema. Whether or not I like his work is a different story, but I will always look forward to what the man has coming out simply because it's something I can't rationally expect. How many filmmakers can we say that out about? I know Steven Spielberg's next film will either be a big-budget adventure film or a serious-minded biopic, I know Kevin Smith's next film will be a human drama centered around hockey, I know Martin Scorsese will examine another cultural figure with a magnifying glass, and I know Tyler Perry will continue to humanize African Americans with another Madea movie or a drama totally in its own melodramatic league. I am completely unsure of what Rohal's next move will be after two extremely out there, independent films and one obscure comedy playing dress-up in mainstream clothes.
The plot concerns Randy (Patton Oswalt), a dedicated boy scout leader, who desperately wants to get children excited about learning the fundamentals of nature and how to survive in the deep wilderness. The problem is in the dawn of technology and commercial flashiness, children are not even remotely interested in what Randy has to say or do. When the kids would rather go to Randy's brother Kirk's home (Johnny Knoxville) to welcome home their new adopted son from Africa, Randy crashes the party and takes the kids for the trip of a lifetime in the woods. This leaves Kirk, his pal Gentry (Rob Riggle), and an angry parent (the late, great comedian Patrice O'Neal) to find Randy, while having Kirk's wife fend off a crowd of angry, nervous parents who want to find their children's whereabouts.
The only thing worse than witnessing a lukewarm or flat-out bad comedy is thinking about what that comedy could've been if things had went in a different direction. There is a scene in the movie that takes place after Kirk is injured very badly after being caught on fire. He requests the children build a stretcher out of materials they find in the woods. They come back a little while later having erected a life-size cross, akin to the one Jesus Christ was crucified on. When they tie Kirk to the cross, they drag him across the woods, bloody, badly cut, and screaming for mercy.
When watching this scene, I realized the true potential this could've had as a twisted, dark comedy with obscure humor and inane setups. All while Todd Rohal maintained his status as an enigmatic filmmaker. But for some baffling reason, Rohal decided to make a comedy that more-or-less tried to hard to mimic that of a foul-mouthed mainstream comedy and only succeeded in being gratuitously foul-mouthed and hinting it could've been destined for cult greatness.
The other downside to the film is that so much comedic talent here is wasted. Patton Oswalt, who has worked in great dark comedy films such as Big Fan and Young Adult, does about as much as he can with the thin material provided, Johnny Knoxville and Rob Riggle are mostly obnoxious bullies without ever being funny, and Patrice O'Neal is the only guy who can get a laugh but even this makes me think about the good films he could've been in if he hadn't died young.
It would appear Rohal wanted to make an independent comedy that dabbled into the mannerisms of a mainstream one but tried to simultaneously give off the impression of a sweet, simple farce that a studio couldn't make. This is a stretch, but it's a nice justification for now. Nature Calls, right down to its perfunctory title, is a wholly disappointing effort from a filmmaker who definitely has better material and ideas on his hands.
Starring: Patton Oswalt, Johnny Knoxville, Rob Riggle, and Patrice O'Neal. Directed by: Todd Rohal.
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