Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Christopher Landon
Writer: Carrie Evans, Emi Mochizuki, Christopher Landon, Lona Williams
Producer: Todd Garner, Andy Fickman
Stars: Tye Sheridan, David Koechner, Cloris Leachman, Halston Sage, Logan Miller, Joey Morgan, Sarah Dumont
Three teenage boy scouts band together with a cocktail waitress to save their town from a zombie outbreak.
Being an undead-themed horror-comedy from Paramount Pictures primes “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” to be dismissible on prejudice alone, particularly for persnickety horror fans hardened in habits of poo-pooing any big studio release as “yet another” zombie movie. Factor its teenage tone with vulgar humor presumably homogenized to have maximum mainstream appeal and every instinct immediately shrieks for dominant dislike.
As hard as those “adult” sensibilities push, the film fights back even harder. Enter under an assumption of being somehow above it all, and the viewing experience becomes a war of attrition against a hard-to-resist cinematic charm. All it takes is for that folded-arm mindset to be moderately malleable and “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” just might Pied Piper a pessimistic predisposition away from a harrumphing Hamelin and into a realm of unexpectedly enthusiastic affinity.
If nothing else, “Scouts Guide” has the courtesy to out its identity during the very first scene. There’s no clear cut swing confirming whether the whole shebang will hit a home run or a foul ball regarding personal proclivities for humor or for horror. But director Christopher Landon maintains a steady speed with the style from the outset. By the conclusion of the pre-credits sequence, enough cards are visible on the table to know if an additional 85 minutes is worth the investment.
“Scouts Guide” starts with a long-haired stoner type passionately performing an Iggy Azalea lip synch while mopping floors. A lab technician is busy repeatedly smoothing an uncooperative dollar bill before trapping his arm in a vending machine over a bag of Takis. The custodian’s clumsiness and the researcher’s distractedness combine to create a two-person dunce confederacy perfect for unwittingly unleashing an undead outbreak. As mentioned four sentences ago, once the dimwit janitor stuffs Tic Tacs into a reanimated corpse’s mouth, you have a pretty fair idea what sort of movie is in store.
What’s more, “Scouts Guide” is also the sort of movie reliant upon elastic zombie penises, inconveniently-timed diarrhea attacks, unhealthy obsessions with Dolly Parton, and a gentleman’s club punnily named “Lawrence of Alabia” as gags for setting up hijinks. At the center of those hijinks is a trio of teen boys, socially stunted as overage scouts yet fearful of leaving the troop and breaking their best friend’s heart, who become the infected town’s best chance for survival. Mature minds might rightfully wonder, how can a film founded on a trope triumvirate of schlubby dork, backwards cap smart ass, and milquetoast good guy wring entertainment out of unashamedly juvenile hilarity?
All deservedly due credit to Christopher Landon for keeping the comedy consistent and the cast at comparable tempos, the unsung heroes of “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” are casting directors/agents Courtney Bright and Nicole Daniels. If Bright and Daniels are guilty of any transgression, it is packing the cannon with more perfectly-cast gunpowder than can ever be fully ignited. David Koechner is underused and Cloris Leachman’s brief role certainly does not require a Cloris Leachman-caliber presence. But unnecessarily heavy firepower rarely hurts and with every actor melting seamlessly into each role from roster top to roster bottom, characters inevitably choke on as much personality as they do chemistry.
Success for “Scouts Guide” stems from the earnestness of these performances. Lowbrow laughs are designed for absurdity, yet the actors allow silliness to speak for itself, complementing comedy with a sincerity that makes childishness endearing instead of infuriating. The resulting product is what happens when smart people with capable comedic commitment say, “you know what, we like to be stupid once in a while, too.”
Some narrative notes force their way into the plot. In particular, teaming up the trio with a shotgun-toting cocktail waitress plays like a ploy to place two of the boys in a strip club for teenage T&A tee-hees. While her self-assured badassery battles back male-oriented overtones by more than once making her the scouts’ saving grace, there is probably a way to build these beats into the story without inserting an adult woman in cutoff shorts. “Scouts Guide” is always a buddy movie at its core though, and those essential themes still punch through no matter the missteps.
Nothing onscreen resembles anything close to edgy. In fact, the film is littered with predictable moments like spotlighted slow motion set to 80s rock and a weapon prep montage. But the R-rated fearless to use its filthy mouth liberally or have a cheap thrill-seeking teen grab a zombie’s bare breasts inspire a bawdiness that throws “Scouts Guide” back to the halcyon heyday of “Porky’s”-style romps. Make it the first feature on a double bill with “Deathgasm” (review here) and just roll with the flow of a National Lampoon attitude feasting on honest intentions for irreverent entertainment.
NOTE: There is a mid-credits scene.
Review Score: 75