Review: 'Nature Calls' Can't See the Laughs for the Trees

Todd Rohal’s “The Catechism Cataclysm” was a bit of an odd duck, ostensibly a tale of a canoeing trip gone awry while doubling as a shaggy dog story about shaggy dog stories themselves. His follow-up, “Nature Calls,” is odd in its own way -- namely, for how comparatively conventional it is.

Randy (Patton Oswalt) is the proud leader of Boy Scout Troop 5516, even if there isn’t much of a troop left to lead. The boys are sick of camping out in parking lots (their moms won’t entrust them to actually venture into the wilderness), and Randy’s brother, Kirk (Johnny Knoxville), already offers all the TVs they can watch and all the sweets they can stand by way of celebrating the one-year anniversary of adopting Dwande (Thiecoura Cissoko). With dear old Dad dying, Randy decides that one last proper outing is in order, and he sways nearly all the scouts to join him on a real camping trip. The problem is, Kirk and all the kids’ parents see that as something akin to kidnapping and take off after him.

Writer-director Rohal basically commits to a “Meatballs”-like vibe, with grown-ups cursing at kids and kids eager to curse right back. He’s certainly enlisted a proven comedic cast -- Rob Riggle, Darrell Hammond, Maura Tierney and the late Patrice O’Neal round out the ranks -- and he has plenty of subjects to skewer: parental panic, spoiled youth, all-around modern indulgence. The line of identical minivans outside a McMansion is about as damning a sight gag as there can be, and I got a kick out of the notion that today’s kids might be reluctant to put out a man on fire because they just assume it must have been done digitally.

Yet, as capably as the plot comes together, the big laughs hardly come. Things never get as outright surreal as they did in “Cataclysm,” and nor should they for the story at hand, but a like-minded stab at playful sacrilege feels a bit too easy and a subplot involving Tierney fending off a far younger suitor echoes a similar gag executed more amusingly in 2001’s “Wet Hot American Summer.” Oswalt gets to do his dorky-earnest thing, Riggle reprises his hotheaded routine, and as a misogynistic, nature-hating lout, Knoxville suffers the brunt of abuse like a champ.

All the pieces are there: funny people doing wacky things in a film that serves as an improbable bridge between this year’s super-sweet “Moonrise Kingdom” and the much raunchier “Wanderlust.” At just under eighty minutes, “Nature Calls” doesn’t really waste any time; still, I’m not entirely sure that it’s worth your own.

“Nature Calls” is currently available On Demand and will open in select cities starting November 9th.

Grade: C

Movie & TV Awards 2018