In 10 Words or Less
Confused dramedy is a disappointment
Loves: Patton Oswalt
Likes: Johnny Knoxville, Patrice O'Neill
Dislikes: The state of scouting
Hates: Wasted potential
No matter what movie-going audiences say with their box-office dollars, I'm a big fan of comic actors doing serious work. The general public may feel like Jim Carrey should stick to the yuk-yuks, but he's turned in some quality performances in dramas. Patton Oswalt, on the other hand, has been pretty successful in making the crossover from comedy, getting positive responses for his turns in the very dark Big Fan and Young Adult. Part of it is probably the difference in their comedic output, where Oswalt's smart alt-comedy stand-up is a bit closer to dramatic work than Carrey's rubber-faced, backside-talking comedy reputation. Either way, Oswalt is one of the best performers at straddling the line. That could have made him the perfect star for a movie like Nature Calls, but the movie isn't quite as adept at balancing the two sides, and the result is a film that struggles to establish a voice and isn't the enjoyable time its cast promises.
Randy (Oswalt) is the scoutmaster of a struggling Boy Scout troop, which has seen its membership dwindle and the interest of those involved all but extinguished. He inherited a strong, renowned group from his father (who is now constrained to his bed in his last days) but changes in society, including competition for kids' free time and overprotective parents, have made scouting less of a draw, as the best Randy can offer kids are campouts in a parking lot. When he loses all the attendees of his latest campout to a sleepover party for his brother's adopted African son Dwande, it's the last straw. Aided by his unusual assistants Eddie and Ivan, he takes his dad and sneaks the kids away for a big camping trip into a restricted area of the woods. Considering this basically amounts to kidnapping and trespassing, suffice to say, it does not go well.
This set-up has all the makings of a classic comedy, including a crowd of foul-mouth misfit kids who would have been right at home in The Bad News Bears. But outside of some occasional absurdity (contained almost exclusively in the final quarter of the film) and the forced pairing of one flirtatious minor with Dwande's adoptive mom (Maura Tierney), there's not a lot of laughs to be found here. Sure, there are some who'll enjoy Rob Riggle's alpha-male security guard and his aggressive give-and-take with Randy's brother (Johnny Knoxville), but mostly the movie's attempts at comedy are dominated by lots of over-the-top screaming. Aside from Tierney (who manages to mostly stay out of the fray thanks to her oft-dominated character) only the late Patrice O'Neal (in his last role) really shines, making the most of a small part.
The reason it's not that funny is because it doesn't really know if that's what it wants to be. So much of the film is dramatic, focusing on Randy's fear of disappointing his father by letting his troop fall apart and the conflict between Randy and his brother. Written and directed by Todd Rohal (the man behind the divisive The Catechism Cataclysm) there's an odd lack of commitment to the drama, like every heavy moment is about to be undone by a laugh. It may be a result of a cast that's known primarily for its comedy, but it makes it very hard to buy in to what's happening on-screen. Perhaps its also somewhat a result of the disappointment of seeing such a funny cast not go for laughs, which similarly hurt the infinitely more entertaining Funny People. Either way, Nature Calls doesn't do enough good over its surprisingly scant 79 minutes to forgive its downside.
A one-disc blu-ray release, this disc is packed in a standard-width Blu-Ray keepcase. The Blu-ray offers options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust the subtitles and check out the extras. There are no audio options, but subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.
The 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer is OK, with no noticeable issues with compression artifacts, but the overall image is just a touch weak, especially in terms of the sharpness. Color is fine, capturing the woodland hues and skintones well, while black levels are fine, avoiding any kind of mudiness during the darker night scenes. The lack of fine detail and a general softness really drags down the overall quality.
There are a few nice sound effects in the surrounds in this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, as a doorbell from off-screen caught me by surprise, but it's mostly a middle of the road presentation, with some light atmospheric work in the sides and rear, while the dialogue, which is almost entirely up-front and center, is clear and clear. You're not going to find much in terms of dynamic mixing or directionality here,
there's a trio of short extras, starting with "Nature Calls Behind the Scenes," which runs about five minutes. On-set interviews, with several of the actors and the director, give you some idea of the production atmosphere, but there's not a lot of insight.
A quick three-minute outtakes reel is your average collection of screw-ups, again showing that with this cast and this crew, it doesn't seem to be a very tense set.
The final featurette is the five-minute "AXS TV: A Look at Nature Calls," this time a promo piece from the newly-rebranded HDNet, for it's sister company Magnet Films. It's a lot of the same stuff as the behind-the-scenes piece, but this time with clips from the film.
Also included are a pair of trailers for the film, as well as other releases from the studio.
The Bottom Line
The biggest sin committed by Nature Calls is trying to be too many things at once. There's nothing wrong with a comedian trying to spread their wings, but with so much comedic talent and a funny premise to work with, trying to blend laughs and a somewhat heavy plot, leaves both sides lacking. The blu-ray is similarly mediocre, and the extras included are too brief. There's a few moments of odd comedy that you might want to watch, but it's hard to justify sitting through the rest of this blessedly brief movie.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.