Some movies have so many talented people working on them that a Movie Fan can't help but take notice. Take the horror-comedy "Freaks of Nature" (R, 1:32) for example. For starters, its screenplay was written by Oren Uziel who wrote "22 Jump Street", a rare sequel that was as good as the original, if not better. Then there's the cast: Denis Leary has voiced characters in "A Bug's Life" and the "Ice Age" movies, been a supporting player in the 2012 and 2014 "Spider-Man" films and starred in the TV series "Rescue Me" on FX. Joan Cusack has a similar resume, which she has been building since 1980. Ed Westwick starred on TV's "Gossip Girl" and "Wicked City" and played roles in movies such as "Children of Men" and "Romeo & Juliet". Vanessa Hudgens was a Disney kid in the "High School Musical" trilogy and then graduated to more adult roles in "Spring Breakers" and "Machete Kills". Bob Odenkirk is a comedian who made a name for himself as the morally ambiguous lawyer in "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul". Keegan-Michael Key is known mainly for his comedic work on TV, but began appearing in multiple movies per year starting in 2010. Mae Whitman
well, you get the point. And in this movie, the relative unknowns at least look like movie stars. Nicholas Braun resembles a young Jim Caviezel, Mackenzie Davis made me imagine a taller Zooey Deschanel and Josh Fadem calls to mind one of the Coreys from the 80s (although I still can't tell my Feldman from my Haim). You would think those kind of looks and that kind of talent and experience would practically guarantee a good movie. You would think.
"Freaks of Nature" takes place in the fictional town of Dillford, Ohio ("The Home of the Riblet"), where humans, vampires and zombies live in relative harmony. Key plays a high school teacher who, as a vampire, has been at the school for 97 years, and he's sick of it – every bit of it. Westwick also plays a vampire, but one who (type-casting alert) uses people for his own selfish goals! Whitman's character plays a zombie who makes zombie life look and sound more pleasant than you'd expect. Leary is a self-made (human) man who started the riblet plant which put the town on the map – and he never lets anyone forget it! Hudgens' character smokes marijuana (a lot) and uses a classmate's house as a place to hide her stash. Cusack and Odenkirk (also human) are the hippie parents of Braun's character, Dag Parker. Two of Dag's classmates, the pretty but insecure Petra (Mackenzie) and the brainy outcast Ned (Fadem) decide to become a vampire and a zombie, respectively, which means that Dag is now friends with a girl who wants to drink his blood and a guy who wants to eat his brains. Well, maybe "friends" isn't the best word to describe their relationship. In this small town, these three have known each other their whole lives, but aren't as close as they might have been as kids. Circumstances force all three to get reacquainted, but fast. Their lives, and possibly the lives of everyone in their town depend on it.
The uneasy peace amongst the mortals and the undead is shattered by an alien apocalypse. You might think that the town's three main groups would band together in the face of a common enemy, but this alien invasion (which results in a force field being created around their town) just brings up long-held prejudices and suspicions, leading the vampires, humans and zombies to start fighting and killing each other. Dag, Petra and Ned find themselves in a situation that provides them temporary safety, which allows them to calm down and become level-headed enough to devise a plan to save their small town.
"Freaks of Nature" has a premise which sounds fun, but fails to deliver on that promise. Too many of the characters are unlikeable and the jokes aren't nearly as funny as in the similarly-themed "Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse" (which, by the way, manages to be far more entertaining with far fewer well-known actors). This movie's problem isn't just that the actors and the script are uninspired, but the set-up of the story and some of its developments just don't make any sense, comedically or otherwise. For example, the zombie teens attend high school even though they lack any real language skills or intellectual abilities, the vampire teens also manage to go to school even though it's during the day (in the sunlight? hello!) and the humans (both the fictional characters and the actual filmmakers) look to be making up the rules to this brave new world as they go, with plot points that seem to come out of nowhere. This movie looks and sounds like it wants to be a modern version of a 1980s-style B-movie, but that's too lofty a goal for this underachiever. Some viewers may enjoy the film's aimless quirkiness, but that would take more effort than this movie deserves, in spite of its accomplished cast. "D+"
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