I first learned of writer/director Todd Rohal when I saw his film The Catechism Cataclysm (or Cat Cat for short) at Sundance two years ago. You will either love or hate this film’s guts — I love it. I described this film as not a movie, but an experience, a bad acid trip gone awesome experience. (Note: I’ve never done acid but have seen Roger Corman’s The Trip and am guessing it’s bonkers.) Cat Cat was something I’ve never seen before — an original, mind-fuck comedy adventure. His follow-up, Nature Calls with comedian Patton Oswalt, is something else for sure, but falls short of fitting into the wild and weird cinematic world Rohal has created.
Randy (Oswalt) has lived and breathed boy scouting since the first day he can remember. His father was a Scout Master, and now that Randy is a grown man, he wants to fill his father’s shoes. Since his father is dying and hospital-bedridden, Randy has decided to take him and the remaining boy scouts left in his squad on a camping trip. But, we need at least one conflict for this story, and here they are: 1) Randy is a terrible scout leader. Even though he’s been a scout his whole life, he’s a pushover and his bumbling persona makes him look like a clueless goon. 2) The kids would rather play video games than learn survival skills. 3) Randy’s jackass brother Kirk (Johnny Knoxville) thinks being a boy scout is a waste of time and goes out of his way to ruin Randy’s longtime planned Scout trip. But, Randy has outsmarted big bro by kidnapping all of the kids during a sleepover and they embark on their boys-become-men forest adventure.
While I admire everything Knoxville has done with the Jackass movie franchise — it’s brilliant and made a big statement in the film industry once the little engine show-turned-film franchise boomed — when he acts like a jackass in a fictional movie (which is almost everything he’s done), it lessens the value of the film. Knoxville takes his character’s stupidity to unbelievable and quite obnoxious levels and it’s agonizing to watch.
What I adore about writer/director Todd Rohal is his skewed sense of humor. He writes and shoots things about life that everybody thinks but would never admit; nasty, dirty things. In Cat Cat, Rohal blasts religion in the most unconventional satirical ways possible. My jaw literally hurt from laughing so hard, and then I prayed God wouldn’t punish me for laughing at His expense. One of the more risqué moments in Nature Calls is a blonde bombshell who pops in and out of the movie randomly, riding through the woods butt-naked on a motorcycle. Since her nakedness is never explained, these random moments are very funny. This is the most crass Rohal-esque moment we get in Nature Calls. Most of the comedy follows that routine Hollywood pattern and it drags the jokes through the mud. Which is a shame because Patton Oswalt has the capability to lead a movie (Big Fan was a marvelous surprise) and here, his raw talent never comes out to play.
The only major bummer about Nature Calls is that it’s Patrice O’Neal’s last film. O’Neal was a downright hellacious comedian and it’s a damn shame he died at such a young age (41). He acted alongside some good guys and you can tell he had a lot of fun with his role, which ironically, is a presumed dead father. Chilling, but O’Neal carries his weight and brings the laughs to his final role.
I think it’s lazy journalism for a critic to say “this film is not as good as his last,” but so much ofNature Calls feels half-baked and not Rohal’s style, I have to compare it to his previous film (which he was without question completely baked while making) to give his style context. Most filmmakers have a flat movie once in their career — Nature Calls looks to be Rohal’s.
Nature Calls is now available to watch on various VOD platforms. It opens on Friday, November 9 in limited theatrical release in the U.S.