Coming a few months after the Boy Scouts were cinematically defined by Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, Todd Rohal’s Nature Calls goes a different route, trading melancholy and whimsy for R-rated gags while still aiming to hit some sentimental grace notes. Sadly, it misses every one of them.
The movie stars Patton Oswalt as Randy, a lifelong Scout who leads the troop started by his now wheelchair-dependent elderly father. The troop is crumbling -- overprotective parents won’t let the boys camp anywhere other than a parking lot, and the kids themselves would rather play video games than learn how to tie a tourniquet. The last straw for Randy comes when his brother Kirk (Johnny Knoxville), who always hated Scouting, throws a birthday party for his adopted son Dwande (Thiecoura Cissoko) on the day of a planned camping trip, and all of the Scouts choose -- in no small part because of their mothers -- to attend the party instead.
Randy crashes the birthday bash and convinces the youngsters, at Dwande’s urging, to go camping instead. As the kids head out into the woods with Randy’s ailing father in tow, Kirk, his obnoxious best friend Gentry (Rob Riggle), and the father of one of the Scouts attempt to find the children.
Right from the opening scene, in which Randy informs one of the kids under his command that his father has died unexpectedly, Nature Calls reveals its greatest weakness -- namely, an inability to maintain a tone. The movie is all over the map, veering between sentimental sibling-rivalry issues, lame South Park-inspired kids-saying-dirty-words comedy, jokes about religion, and satirical jabs at helicopter parents. None of it is emotionally effective, and very little of it is actually funny.
As Kirk’s put-upon wife, skilled comic actress Maura Tierney does what she can with a subplot about one of the boys having a remarkably inappropriate crush on her. Oswalt is stranded by a script that isn’t nearly as smart or funny as his previous work, but Knoxville is actually perfectly cast as the cartoonish buffoon who suffers numerous Three Stooges-esque injuries, including a Bluetooth earpiece that melts into his head. Rob Riggle shows up to do his patented a--hole-on-‘roids persona that’s always so gratingly annoying that it’s not even fun to watch him get his comeuppance -- you just want to get away from him.
Clocking in at just about 80 minutes, Nature Calls feels underdeveloped, as if the thought of Patton Oswalt -- with his doughy frame and boyishly pudgy face -- in a Scout uniform would be funny enough to sustain the whole movie. Oswalt doesn’t embarrass himself by any means, but by failing to come up with anything original, touching, or funny, Rohal let his cast and the audience down. leave a comment --Perry Seibert