Movie Review: Patton Oswalt goes Scouting in “Nature Calls”

You can count on one hand the number of movies, over the decades, that have depicting Scouting and had the nerve to identify their characters as actual Boy Scouts.

Wes Anderson shied away from that label and the official uniform in last summer’s twee tween romance, “Moonrise Kingdom.”

But not Todd Rohal, writer-director of the R-rated farce, “Nature Calls.” He puts his troop leaders in something close to an official uniform and calls them and their young charges “Boy Scouts.” And the stuff he has these adults and kids say and do would make likely make “official” Boy Scoutdom blanche. A little.

Patton Oswalt is Randy, the overly eager Scoutmaster’s son who grew up to see his beloved organization lose its place in the center of American youth culture. Randy took over from his dad, a legendary Scoutmaster. But Randy’s Scouting has to compete with TV, video games, endless organized youth sports and the like to win over recruits.

And he’s failing. The boys aren’t interested.

No wonder. Campouts in these litigious, smothering-mothering days consist of pitching a tent or hanging out in a trailer behind the church where Troop 5516 holds its meetings. Randy longs to drag a group of kids “to the deep woods, the real outdoors, without your moms treating you like babies.”

Fat chance. Kids today, he laments, will never know the pleasures of wilderness, sitting around a campfire, playing with fire and axes and knives and such.

Randy’s brother Kirk (Johnny Knoxville)  is a big part of the problem. He grew up hating the old man’s Scouting obsession. And he’s darned if he’ll let his adopted African kid (Thiecoura Cissoko), a child of the wild, return to them on his watch.

But Randy uses a TV-and-junk-food kiddie sleepover at Kirk’s house as a recruiting trip. He hijacks that party and slips off into the wilderness to “toughen up” a generation of weenies

You see the problem here. “Patton Oswalt” and “toughen up? Funny. And Oswalt makes the most of that contradiction, playing the heck out of a nerdie guy for whom Scouts were always a sanctuary.

The other parents don’t know. Kirk and his psycho-salesman pal (Rob Riggle, out of control) chase after Randy and seven boys.

“Children don’t LIVE in the woods. They DIE.”

Darrell Hammond shows up as an anal retentive park ranger who doesn’t want Scouts out bushwhacking away from the all-the-comforts-of-home campgrounds. There’s a naked biker/camper babe, some taunting and tormenting and chasing of children.

And, shockingly enough, a message. Boys ARE missing out on a rite of passage in their insulated world of minivans, soccer moms and Play Stations. Nature IS where boys become men.

“SMELL it! I made TESTOSTERONE!”

One major and obvious boo-boo — the boys are all quite young, one described as “eight years old.” Boy Scouts are boys ranging in age from ten and a half to 18. Eight year-olds are Cub Scouts. Writer-director Rohal may have realized how creepy weird-adults-with-teenage boys can look. Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise” had many moments of kids in their underwear that tainted his film with a hint of “Who made this, Roman Polanski?”

The laughs — like those in “Moonrise Kingdom” — come from the flashes of recognition any ex-Scout will have seeing this or that mishap — even the profane ones.  The raunchier stuff — eight year olds hitting on Kirk’s wife (Maura Tierney) — is pretty tame by modern “Hangover” standards.

Scruffy, as ill-fitting as a store-bought Scout uniform and not even remotely a kids’ movie despite aiming for something between snarky and cute, “Nature Calls” is still worth a chuckle or two if you’ve ever come home from a weekend with mosquito bites and mumbley peg cuts on your fingers.

MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content/nudity

Cast: Patton Oswalt, Johnny Knoxville, Rob Riggles, Maura Tierney

Credits: Written and directed by Todd Rohal, a Magnolia release.

Running time: 1:20

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