THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Randy Stevens (Patton Oswalt), the main character in Nature Calls, grew up a Boy Scout and is dismayed that kids today don't value the organization the way he did (and still does). Even his brother, Kirk (Johnny Knoxville), has rejected the lessons their father taught them during childhood scouting adventures. It's one of many reasons the two don't get along. Kirk, who sells ATM machines to unlikely businesses, looks down on Randy for his old-fashioned ideals and ridicules his commitment to his own ragtag scout troop, comprised of kids who obviously don't want to be there. Desperate to prove the merits of scouting to everyone, Randy kidnaps his troop – their parents think they're at a sleepover – and hauls them into the woods for a camping trip. He pulls his aging father out of a nursing home to accompany them. Also along for the ride is Kirk's adopted son, and African boy who seems to be more of a status indicator than an actual family member. This doesn't sit well, so Kirk and his company's security chief (Rob Riggle) head into the woods to find Randy. Meanwhile, Kirk's wife, Janine (Maura Tierney), tries to prevent all the mothers from finding out their kids have gone missing.
Nature Calls sounds like the kind of lowbrow kiddie comedy that would star Kevin James. Or, if it had been made in the '80s, it might have been an anti-establishment comedy with someone like Bill Murray in the lead. In reality, it's neither of those things. The movie plays as though someone wrote a treatment for a comedy, and they filmed that instead of writing the complete script. Characters are introduced and situations are set up, yet every time it seems as though something wacky is going to happen, the payoff doesn't arrive. Nature Calls never goes for Murray-esque comic anarchy, nor does it shoot for James-ian slapstick. It just sits there, too lazy to exploit the potential of its premise. The movie's idea of a big, raunchy joke is to have the young scouts spot a naked woman riding a motorcycle. I can think of all kinds of ways to milk a laugh from that scenario; here, the kids just run after her.
Patton Oswalt is quite good in the lead role, bringing a sense of decency and sincerity to the character of Randy. Even though little else holds our interest, he does, giving an effective portrayal of a man fighting the temptation to completely resign himself to the cynicism of those around him. Darrell Hammond provides amusing supporting work, playing an uptight park ranger who wants to keep the gang out of a restricted area. Some of the other actors don't fare as well. Johnny Knoxville is horribly miscast as the embodiment of materialism; someone so inherently loose cannon-ish should never play the establishment. Meanwhile, Rob Riggle continues his career pattern of always appearing as though he's in a different movie from all his co-stars. He screams his dialogue, as he often seems to do on screen.
Writer/director Todd Rohal previously directed The Catechism Cataclysm, a picture that I found infuriatingly incomprehensible. Nature Calls is more mainstream and far more watchable. Neither movie is especially funny, though. All the ingredients are here for a big, wacky comedy, but the momentum is lacking. (Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom ultimately did a far better job of skewering the Boy Scouts' occasional lack of relevance in the modern world.) Nature Calls promises a silly good time, only to display little interest in fulfilling that promise.
( out of four)
Nature Calls is rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 19 minutes.
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