Scout's Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 11/01/15 08:02:59

"Does not merit many a badge."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

At a festival earlier this year, a director actually mentioned that his producer prevented him from putting proper punctuation in his film's title, saying it looks bad on a marquee and that you don't want a pause in there. I don't see anyone figting for the apostrophe that should be in this movie's title, though - the guys making this not-particularly-clever teens-versus-zombies picture don't seem like the type to sweat details like proper grammar.

After a sort-of-funny opener where a janitor (Blake Anderson) in a secret facility ignores an edict not to touch anything, the movie introduces the last three guys in Deer Field, CA still scouting as sophomores in hgh school: Augie (Joey Morgan) is the die-hard, although friends Ben (Tye Sheridan) and Carter (Logan Miller) have mostly stuck around the past couple of years because they felt Augie needed it after the death of his father. In fact, after Augie gets his "Condor" badge on tonight's camping trip, they intend to sneak away to a party being thrown by the seniors - including Carter's sister Kendall (Halston Sage), on whom Ben has a most understandable crush. But Scout Leader Rogers (David Koechner) never shows up, and when they get back to town, only Denise (Sarah Dumont), a waitress at the local strip club, seems to be around. Luckily, she's pretty good with a shotgun.

This film was originally titled "Scouts vs Zombies", and there's little denying that it's a fun idea for a movie, although it might have been a better one if the emphasis on scouting were more than having the characters in uniform occasionally mentioning that they'd tied a specific knot. It's a dead-simple idea, after all, but director Christopher Landon and his co-writers only rarely seem to come up with scenarios where tracking, knowing about wildlife, surviving in the wilderness, or the whole gamut of skills modern scouts might get merit badges for are put to the test. There's a very funny thriller to be found in overlooked kids coming to the rescue, especially if they're kind of unassuming and have the broad range and mastery of skills those about to become the film's equivalent of an Eagle Scout display, especially if the entire troop were more than just three sixteen-year-olds.

But that's not the case; instead, it's fairly rote "splatstick" where no weight is given to people dying horribly all around the main characters and "because that's how it works in zombie movies" is apparently sufficient explanation - efficient, but kind of lazy; why not play with the high concept and make it one's own? The jokes often seem like they were only half-thought-out before filming starts - that Rogers is a big fan of Dolly Parton kind of becomes his one characteristic, and just putting one of her songs underneath an action scene winds up being more an idea for a joke than a joke itself. There's three jokes that basically run "weird music choice", and the returns do diminish. On the horror side, there aren't more than one or memorable kills or truly suspenseful scenes - even the big action finale never has characters the audience knows and likes seem to be in any actual danger.

It's a decent-enough cast, although they are playing basic types more than individual characters. Tye Sheridan, who has been an impressive foil to older actors in the likes of Mud and Joe, plays the centered, generally-nice Ben, and makes for an amiable lead that the viewer wouldn't mind having for a proxy even if both of the film's hot blondes didn't seem to find him sweet. Logan Miller is okay as the impatient wiseass, and Joey Morgan holds his own as the friend who maybe lags a half-step behind the rest of the group. Sarah Dumont is the girl who is kind of hostile and super-capable to try and deflect comments about her being there to fill out a white tank-top (especially when "sexy" seems to be the only attribute the other young women in the cast get), but she does okay. David Koechner and Cloris Leachman are this film's character actors who show up and do the sort of things they generally do.

"Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse" isn't inept; it's just far more bland than a movie with such fairly enthusiastic crudity should be.

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