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Brother Nature

Paramount // R // December 13, 2016
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted January 12, 2017 | E-mail the Author
For a brief period in the late-2000s, there was a short reign of comedies about relatively average men who were unwillingly thrown together with and subsequently tormented by an obnoxious weirdo, only for the weirdo to turn out lovable in the end. Although the names of most of these comedies escape me now -- the American Dinner for Schmucks comes to mind, as well as Due Date, and even Galifianakis' character in The Hangover feels like a version -- it was a trope, and a tiring one. Now, for almost a decade later, "SNL" cast and crew, including Taran Killam, Bobby Moynihan, writer Mikey Day, producer Lorne Michaels, and directors Oz Rodriguez and Matt Villines, have teamed up to give us Brother Nature -- arguably the worst example yet.

Killam, who co-wrote the script with Day, plays Roger, an incredibly organized aide for congressman Frank McClaren (Giancarlo Esposito). He's getting ready to propose to his girlfriend, Gwen (Gillian Jacobs), and has it all planned out: head up into the woods for a vacation with Gwen's family, where he can talk to her parents, Jerry and Cathy (Bill Pullman and Rita Wilson), as well as meet her sister Margie (Sarah Burns) and her boyfriend, Todd (Moynihan). The first unexpected wrinkle in his plan is McClaren's unexpected decision to retire rather than running for re-election, opening up a seat that McClaren pushes Roger to run for, a decision he'll have to make over the weekend. The second wrinkle, of course, is Todd.

There are two big pitfalls with the "sweet-hearted nightmare" formula, and Brother Nature dives headlong into both of them as energetically as Todd tries to make friends with Roger. For one, the formula is truly formulaic: one knows from the beginning that the weekend will be an increasingly agonizing situation for Roger that will almost certainly a) give the family a bad impression of him, b) screw up his proposal, c) potentially end his relationship entirely, and d) destroy his chance at McClaren's Congress seat, all before Todd uses his obnoxious magic to make things right again. Worse, there's a fine line between an understandable transgression that may look one way to the family but differently to Roger, and Todd plain being obnoxious. Moynihan, who is frequently funny when used properly (in particular, appearances on "Comedy Bang! Bang!", both the show and the podcast), is simply painful to watch, overstepping every boundary, wrecking everything like clockwork. Not only does the character have no redeeming qualities, but Moynihan fails to come within a mile of a laugh -- at a certain point, I honestly thought the movie would be improved if Roger simply murdered Todd. Todd's eventual transformation from disaster zone to good man is completely arbitrary, and his minor good deeds don't feel like they make up for the legitimate horror of spending time with him.

Paired with Moynihan's oppressive scenery-chewing, Killam is an exercise in polar opposites, a blank void that exists where a character ought to. The movie fails its own premise twice by making Roger an unlikable bore even with Todd around ruining his life; there's something oddly unsympathetic about him. He's not even relatable when a fellow aide, Riggleman (Kumail Nanjiani) arrives and inexplicably views Todd as charming. In the background, Jacobs, Burns, Pullman, Wilson, David Wain, Rachael Harris, "SNL" pals Kenan Thompson and Aidy Bryant, and Sarah Baker are all wasted, executing limp side material that goes nowhere. As directors, Rodriguez and Villines belabor jokes, especially one involving ice cream that feels like a long walk for minimal payoff, and have almost no visual style.

There are exactly two good jokes in the entirety of Brother Nature's 96 minute running time. The first involves a fish, and it's one of the few moments where the movie gets everything right: Roger is arguably more at fault for what ensues than Todd, the conception of the gag is funny in its over-the-top nature, and the direction adds a bit of flair to what is already a spectacular bit of business. (It also helps, for some reason, that the fish puppet looks somewhat disturbing, as if it's unnaturally mutated.) The other comes about 40 minutes later, when Roger and Todd, having patched things up, engage in a bit of playful banter. For one brief shining moment, there's genuine comic chemistry between Killam and Moynihan. Too bad about the rest of the movie.

The artwork for Brother Nature is really something: not heads in boxes, not floating heads, and not really anything that could be called a "design" or "composition" -- it features the key cast members, positioned together in sort of a blob, and features haunting digital smoothing that turns each of them into weird, alien fascimiles of human beings, especially Pullman and Wilson. The back goes with the "boxes" layout, not to mention spoils one aspect of the movie, albeit a predictable one. The one-disc release comes in an eco-friendly DVD case, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 2.39:1 anamorphic widescreen and with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, Brother Nature looks and sounds like a fairly cheap movie. The very first scene, in which Roger goes to buy an engagement ring, is plagued by interlacing that would be more visible if the scene contained more sudden movements, but can be glimpsed in the form of visible ghosting. Other scenes throughout just have a strange digital softness to them, including one moment where I swore I saw dot crawl on a character's face seen from a distance. Another scene, in which ants crawl on Roger's face, is poorly-resolved enough that the ants appear to be floating, a quirk which I thought was CG until I saw the snipped in the credits where actual bugs are dumped on Killam's face. There is also just a hint of compression throughout, which is especially frustrating for a film that has the disc space all to itself. Audio-wise, there's nothing to talk about, even during certain scenes that achieve Brother Nature's idea of "action-oriented", such as a scene involving a motorboat, or another involving a water-based jetpack. 5.1 tracks are also offered for Spanish, French, and Audio Description, as well as English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and French and Spanish subtitles.

The Extras
None, not even pre-menu trailers.

Although I watched the film on January 10th, I might already have seen a solid contender for the worst movie I'll see in all of 2017. Skip it.

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