NOVEMBER 8, 2015
I noticed far more writing credits on Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse than the shooting script seemingly would have required, which means I'd have to do research to find out which of them was responsible for the thing that kept me from really liking the movie. Most of it actually really works well, with an endearing trio of best friends at its center and a sweet, if slightly cliched, subplot about how one of them isn't "growing up" as fast as the other two and how they handle their eroding bond, all set against a zombie outbreak that has seemingly wiped out most of their town. Alas, someone thought it'd be a good idea to work an American Pie-esque series of raunchy encounters and subplots into the mix, and it all but kills the movie's potential every time it rears its ugly head.
Since the heroes are 15 or 16, this would make for a pretty good early entry zombie for your budding horror fan if not for all the sexual hijinks. It's one thing for a Friday the 13th-type boob shot before Jason kills the fornicating teens, but one of the three guys talks about sex non-stop, there's a trip to a strip club (yes, an undead stripper does a routine, more on that soon), and in the weirdest moment, a female zombie snags her top on something and exposes her breasts, at which point the horny guy fondles them. Well, tied for weirdest; later on an old lady zombie (Cloris Leachman!) tries to eat his ass but her dentures are out so he doesn't get infected or anything - we just get a visual of an Oscar winner slurping away in dangerous proximity to a teenager's asshole. It's gross and unfunny, and doesn't jive at all with the kid-friendly plot about doing what's right, standing by your pals, etc. It also primes the movie too much for what is its only good gag - a kid is falling out of a window and grabs hold of what he/we think is a zombie's bathrobe belt, only to discover that it's actually the guy's dick. With all the boobs and raunchiness you know a dick gag is coming, and it deflates some of the gag's impact - imagine how funny and shocking it'd be in an otherwise chaste movie? It'd still go against the otherwise PG-13 tone (the violence is no more harsh than what's allowed on Walking Dead), but at least the payoff would be worth it.
That said, I did appreciate that the fat kid of the group wasn't the butt of fat jokes the whole time. He has a toilet moment (someone had to), but otherwise they don't really bother with lame gags - even during the aforementioned window scene (they're jumping out the window onto a well-placed trampoline to bounce to safety), you'd half-expect some dumb Kevin James-y gag where he crashes through the trampoline or can't bounce high or whatever, but he clears it just fine. His dedication to the scout group is also refreshingly not played for laughs; his friends are getting a bit too old to be earning merit badges or whatever, but they clearly still have some affinity for it (and plenty more for him), so he's not painted or treated as a dork or a loser or anything like that. In vague exposition that I assume was truncated, we learn that his father died two years ago, so scouting with his two best pals (and their scout leader, played by David Koechner in a rare non-asshole role) is how he keeps the sadness at bay - and the friends respect that. This could have easily turned into a mockfest both about scouting and the "weird kid" that sticks with it after puberty, but at least one of the writers was smart enough to know that the comedy can stem from genuine character interplay and situations, not by making fun of everything.
As for the zombie stuff, it's fine. They explain it away with some accident at a science lab (the janitor, played by Workaholics' Blake Anderson, snoops around and unleashes it) and it takes a while to really get going, but there's an interesting element to it that I haven't seen much: they retain basic (VERY basic) functions of their pre-zombie life. I mentioned the stripper, and then they encounter a weird homeless guy with an affinity for Britney Spears who, despite being undead, recognizes "Baby One More Time". And sure enough, when they go to a police station for help, a zombie cop does what a normal cop would do - he fires his gun repeatedly at the people he's supposed to be protecting. The filmmakers also split the difference for the whole "fast or slow" thing - they just kinda briskly walk, which I found amusing, and on that note despite being a zombie comedy they don't drown in Romero references (save for the hero being named Ben, but with that as the only one it might just be a coincidence). There's a shoutout to Haddonfield for some reason, but otherwise the biggest reference is probably a Die Hard spoof (it's during the cock scene, which I admit is part of why I was won over by it - the kid falls just like Hans, with the now dismembered cock in place of Holly's watch). I don't know why so many zombie comedies seem to be knee-deep in references to other movies, but it's nice to see an exception.
Oh, and zombies are a thing they know about, which I always love. It's settled in about two seconds; a zombie approaches, someone says "Is that a... no, it can't be!" (or something along those lines), and then it's shot in the chest and survives. Then it's shot in the head and dies, and the shooter says "See? Zombie." and that's that. I've been saying for years that we're long past the time where anyone should be in the dark as to what a zombie is, so I'm glad we're finally getting to that place. This also informs how they make their weapons, in a sequence that thankfully doesn't do the Evil Dead thing with a bunch of quick-cut zooms as the trio gears up for battle. The boy scouts angle is actually kind of underplayed in the film; they're out on a camp trip, but they leave the woods pretty quickly and apart from their badge-covered shirts, the whole concept barely applies until it's time to make makeshift weapons at the hardware store. Closeups of their various badges (archery, engineering, etc) are mixed with them making appropriate weapons, presumably using the knowledge that they've gained over years of scouting. And the weapons are effective - one makes a pneumatic airgun thing (like a cannon used to fire promo shirts) with doorknob ammo that can put a hole through several zombie heads with one shot, and another modifies a weed-whacker. It's always bugged me that in zombie movies, even after the "only to the head" rule has been applied you still see people shooting at chests, so I liked that they actually make weapons that are specifically to take out the heads. And there's even a fun payoff where the one lifer scout has been trying to earn his fire-making badge, and of course finally gets it right to save the day - like the nudity, it seems like these multiple writing teams were all making different movies, and I wish I could see the one that keeps the scouting angle front and center throughout, as I found it quite charming.
So the movie is sloppy, basically. It's not terrible; I was enjoying myself and was impressed with the main kid (Tye Sheridan), but they might as well have color coded the images to match the obviously rewritten (and rewritten again) script. And I couldn't help but think that the best audience for this movie wouldn't even notice things like that, but at the same time, the sex gags (one girl is literally eaten out, I should mention) would be too much for the 9 or 10 year olds the rest of the movie would be perfect for. It's sort of like Deadly Friend in that regard, where I am seriously unsure who the target audience was for this thing. Older horror fans who miss Stifler and the rest of the Pie guys? Has to be a tiny grouping, even tinier than the film's terrible box office would suggest. I was actually surprised that there were like 15 other people in the theater with me, considering that the film was "enjoying" a record-setting terrible weekend - I figured I might even have a private screening. No one seemed super into it, but there was only one walk out, so I guess the rest all felt the same as me: it's an OK movie that was the victim of people making bad, ill-fitting decisions on what kind of movie it should be.
What say you?