Magnolia Pictures // 2012 // 79 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // February 13th, 2013
Manhood. It's the only badge that matters.
"Nature is your toilet. Pee anywhere."
Randy (Patton Oswalt, Young Adult) has been a scouting enthusiast his entire life. He was a highly-regarded scout of various ranks during his youth, and now he proudly devotes his spare time to leading a boy scout troop. Well, that's what he'd be doing if he actually had a troop. These days, it seems that kids would rather be at home watching TV and playing video games than hanging out in the woods and learning how to tie knots. In a desperate move, Randy drops by a slumber party being hosted by his brother Kirk (Johnny Knoxville, Jackass) coerces a group of kids to go on a camping trip. The only problem? Neither Kirk nor any of the other parents gave their consent. Soon, Kirk and his buddies Gentry (Rob Riggle, 21 Jump Street) and Mr. Caldwell (Patrice O'Neal, Patrice O'Neal: Elephant In The Room) are furiously attempting to track down Randy and his rowdy band of young recruits.
Dear Patton Oswalt,
I'm a fan. Your stand-up work has always been terrific. Your performances in Big Fan and Young Adult were worthy of Oscar nominations. It's always a pleasure to see you turn up in whatever TV show I happen to be watching, and that's been happening a lot in recent years: Dollhouse, Justified, Caprica, Portlandia, Bored to Death, United States of Tara, Community, Reno 911!...the list goes on. Good stuff, man. You've got an exceptionally entertaining Twitter account and the articles you write every now and then tend to be both funny and thought-provoking. On top of all of that, you seem like a pretty nice guy.
Considering how many small supporting roles you've been given over the course of your career in film and television, I was pleased to see that you were the lead of Todd Rohal's new comedy Nature Calls. Naturally, the film's groan-inducing title didn't do a whole lot to inspire confidence, but you were the star! And look, there's Rob Riggle, Maura Tierney, and the late Patrice O'Neal in the supporting cast! "Surely this thing has to be good for a few laughs," I figured. Then I watched the movie.
Dude, I'm gonna be honest. It was rough. It was really, really rough. I get the appeal of the Bad News Bears vibe the film is going for. I get the idea of playing the earnest, sweet-natured guy in the midst of an otherwise chaotic, foul-mouthed comedy must have seemed appealing. I mean, Edward Norton gave a killer performance doing that very thing in Death to Smoochy. Of course, the rest of that movie was Death to Smoochy, but I digress. Todd Rohal must have seemed like a pretty safe bet, too. His previous flick (the amusingly weird The Catechism Cataclysm) was a unique effort. Too bad he seemed to be aiming for mainstream acceptance this time, because it's led to a film that feels tired and uninspired.
It's difficult for me to say whether the direction or the script is to blame, but Nature Calls never really seems to nail down that ribald screwball tone it's searching for. The movie is loud and vulgar, but never starts clicking. Most of your fellow actors seem to be on auto-pilot, perhaps due to the fact that the movie never really asks them to leave their comfort zone. Rob Riggle playing another macho, chauvinist blowhard? Johnny Knoxville as a nut willing to do some crazy things to achieve his goal? Maura Tierney as the humorless mom? It's no wonder everyone looks bored. Your character frustrated me, too, because I got the sense that he was an interesting guy but felt like the movie never really gave me a chance to get to know him. He's given some basic characterization and then finds himself taking a backseat to all of the wacky antics the film offers. Sure, I laughed at a couple of sight gags late in the film, but it was too little, too late.
I wish I could at least report that Nature Calls (Blu-ray) has gotten a strong 1080p/2.40:1 transfer, but...well, the Blu-ray kinda sucks, too. I've seen very few modern movies that looked this soft and flat. It's not like sub-par equipment is to blame -- after all, the movie was shot with the Red One digital camera (which has given us great-looking films from Che to The Social Network), so why does everything look so lousy? Did it look this way to begin with, or did the people responsible for putting out this disc just figure that anyone who cared to own this flick wouldn't care? The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is functional, but hardly attention-grabbing in any particular way. The dialogue and the upbeat score are presented with clarity. I know you aren't really responsible for this stuff, but it would have been nice if you had participated in an audio commentary. That undoubtedly would have been more entertaining than the film itself. Instead, all we get are a couple of lousy EPK-style featurettes ("Nature Calls: Behind the Scenes" and "AXS TV: A Look at Nature Calls"), 3 minutes of uninspired outtakes and a couple of trailers.
Patton, I really hope you're given better starring opportunities going forward, because you deserve them. You're a fine actor and a distinctive comic voice. For the sake of us all, please don't make another movie like Nature Calls. Thank you for your consideration of this matter.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 79 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R