Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015) / Comedy-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for zombie violence and gore, sexual material, graphic nudity, and language throughout
Running Time: 93 min.
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, Joey Morgan, Sarah Dumont, David Koechner, Halston Sage
Small role: Cloris Leachman, Dillon Francis
Director: Christopher Landon
Screenplay: Carrie Evans, Emi Mochizuki, Christopher Landon
Review published November 8, 2015
The problem with Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (originally titled Scouts vs. Zombies) isn't that it's poorly made or without laughs -- it's generally skillfully made in most regards -- it's that it has emerged in a world in which funnier, scarier zombie comedies like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland already exist. It's also a raunchy teen comedy in an era in which poop and sex gags have already reached glut levels in R-rated comedies. In short, in 2003, Scouts Guide would have been a smash hit; in 2015, it feels like it's arrived at the party right after the last empty keg has rolled out for the night. That a style of movie you'd think should be dead and gone is still kicking around today is about zombies is choice irony, indeed.
Tye Sheridan (Dark Places) and Logan Miller (Night Moves) plays best buds, sensitive boy-next-door Ben and devil-may-care skirt-chaser Carter respectively. They're high school sophomores in the small town of Deer Field, California, who have grown a bit anxious that they're not considered part of the 'cool crowd', in large part, so they think, due to still being in the American Scout Society (A.S.S., get it?). Itching to get out and get invited to parties they've been overlooked for, they do have qualms about telling their mutual friend, the forlorn and sweet-natured Augie (Morgan, Compadres), who has been gung-ho about the Scouts since his father's passing, that they're no longer going to be part of his world in that way. They plan on ditching Augie's camp-out celebration after earning the vaunted Condor badge in order to go to the secret party full of the school's in-crowd of seniors. However, their plans are curtailed when a plague outbreak emerges that causes humans and animals to turn into blood-sucking zombies, including their beloved Scout Leader Rogers (Koechner, Anchorman 2) who infect others through their nasty bites. With the help of a resourceful strip-club cocktail waitress named Denise (Dumont, Don Jon), the trio of scouts have to rely on their many skills have to survive another day.
Directed and co-written by Christopher Landon, who scripted Disturbia and all of the Paranormal Activity series save for the first and last one, the slapstick-y movie plays for gross-out humor a good deal of the time, with some of the gags involving private parts getting eaten, yanked off, or, in one case, gummed because the zombie is elderly and has lost all of her teeth. There is also a great deal of silliness, including a zombie stripper pole-dance, a zombie Britney Spears fan sing-along, a battle in the home of a Dolly Parton kitsch collector, and a strip joint named 'Lawrence of Alabia'. The film does overstep its bounds in terms of taste from time to time -- I could have lived my life without one particularly awful zombie oral sex moment -- but Landon never loses the irreverent tone, despite his lapses into repulsive sight gags. Zombie story fanatics may be disappointed by the film's lack of consistent rules when it comes to who, how, and when people turn infected, mostly using the zombies as a device for gross-out humor more than for any sort of scares or story developments.
Sheridan shows here that his acting skills shown in acclaimed rural dramas like Mud and Joe are no fluke; he's the only actor in the film that isn't pushing solely for straight comedy, and it grounds the picture, along with his character, in surprising ways. His character, Ben, has had a major a crush on Carter's older sister, Kendall (Sage, Goosebumps), for many years, and Sheridan manages to being some genuine feeling for the lad and his quest to be something more than her pipsqueak brother's friend in her eyes. This means that the big party where she's in attendance will, naturally, be where the movie's climax will be, as the boys must find a way to save Kendall before the entire shindig turns carnivorous, and before the entire town is leveled by the military trying to keep the infection from spreading beyond Deer Field.
Despite its inherent derivativeness, I can't quite score Scouts Guide as a misfire because it hits the right notes at the right times. It's a competent, energetic, well directed, adequately performed zombie romp and teen male-bonding flick that will likely sate those looking for just that. It's unfortunately a bit too passť to pass as cutting edge, it's too recent to qualify as a loving homage to "how they used to make 'em", and it's not incisive enough as a genre lark, a la Cabin in the Woods or Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, to please those who've grown tired of the same old-same old. In short, it's a juvenile film that will primarily please juveniles, who may not have yet seen all of the best the zombie comedy-spoof genre has to offer. Given that the film is about a trio of high-school sophomores, it's appropriately sophomoric.
©2015 Vince Leo