On the verge of losing what’s left of his troop to suburban slothfulness and mommy-coddling, hangdog Boy Scout leader Randy (Patton Oswalt) rounds up an ill-prepared coterie of tweens for an impromptu, unsanctioned trip into the deep woods. Determined to honor his family’s lifelong commitment to scouting, Randy brings his terminally mute, wheelchair-bound dad along for the ride, and finds an unlikely protégé in Dwande (Thiecoura Cissoko), the African adoptee of his douchey, outdoors-averse brother Kirk (Johnny Knoxville). Before they’re hunted down by a caravan of mothers in minivans—not to mention Kirk’s pellet-gun-toting sociopathic buddies (Rob Riggle and the late Patrice O’Neal)—the kids learn to love the great outdoors, where you can pee in public, befriend a topless motorcyclist and witness a spectacular death by firecracker.
As with his sublime whatsit The Catechism Cataclysm (2011), Todd Rohal’s latest excels when taking narrative left turns, best exemplified by a thrillingly tone-altering, bodies-in-a-bonfire showdown between a sleeping-bag-imprisoned Randy and Bluetooth-bedecked Kirk that veers from slapstick to absurdist tragedy. Yet no amount of eccentric Americana (or slyly marginal inventiveness) can salvage this strangely lifeless—and largely laughless—gonzo comedy, which is doomed by a flimsy script, one-dimensional characterizations and distractingly inept child acting. There’s nothing wrong with slack misanthropy, but as piss-takes go, Nature Calls offers a pretty thin stream.
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