Chris (Adam Brody) is a low-level stooge at a design firm who desperately wants to leap up the corporate ladder. The enemy of progress is Phil (Rob Huebel), a dumb, arrogant co-worker who has the eye of CEO Mr. Crawford(Dennis Haysbert), and a loyal lapdog in Troy (Aaron Takahashi) to agree with every one of his dumb decisions. Chris really gets angry when Phil steals one of Chris' designs and lands a big client with it, but before he can raise a real stink over it, Mr. Crawford introduces everyone to Storm Rothchild (Jean-Claude Van Damme), a former military man who will lead the entire office on a mandatory wilderness retreat, designed to encourage teamwork and help the staff develop intestinal fortitude.
Frankly, this is a fine premise for a comedy, potentially even a semi-great one. The cast, which also includes Kristen Schaal as the rabbit-loving Brenda, Eric Edelstein as Chris' best friend / Brenda's ex-boyfriend Jared, and Megan Boone as Lisa, the girl of Chris' dreams, is more than capable, and of course Van Damme is the big draw, having proven over the years that he's more than willing to poke fun at himself, and even pretty good at it. Yet Welcome to the Jungle is insistently formless, meandering along without any drive or reason. The story makes semi-logical sense, but none of the film's rivalries or plot mechanics ever grab hold. Developments occur without any sense of build or rhythm. Exposition is dropped so casually I found myself remembering up to ten minutes after the fact that certain developments were actually set up. It's a strangely nebulous film, occurring more than unfolding.
The film's core problem is tone, stemming from Huebel's performance. Anyone who's seen "Childrens Hospital" knows that Huebel can be very funny with the right material, but director Rob Meltzer refuses to reign him in, and the screenplay by Jeff Kauffman gives him nothing but one single grating note to play over and over. His villainy depends on a cartoon logic, but Brody, Boone, and Edelstein play their roles like normal human beings; there's no real way to reconcile scenes of Chris and Jared trying to repair a radio with the reveal that Phil has used hallucinogenic plants to regress everyone back to a caveman state, wielding spears and speaking in broken English. Chris and Phil's conflict is never less than painfully contrived, driven by necessity rather than character.
Thankfully, even as stunt casting, Van Damme is entertaining following a rocky start, almost in spite of Meltzer and Kauffman's efforts. It's a smaller role, offering the Muscles from Brussels the same amount of screen time as some of the less-important office mates, but his oddball charm shines through when, say, Schaal's character is rubbing his ears, comforting him exactly like one of her pet rabbits, or when he breaks into a moment between Chris and Lisa to offer some incredibly familiar words of advice. Every minute he's on screen hints at the bizarre pleasures that Welcome to the Jungle ought to capitalize on, but doesn't. It's hard to say exactly what it is Welcome to the Jungle is doing wrong, because it doesn't seem to know what it's doing in the first place.
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