Silver Screen: Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse *
It’s possible that Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse was somebody’s passion project.
The movie did formerly sport a superior title— Scouts Versus Zombies, which reigns supreme with its brevity and directness, and also lacks the craven grasp at association with Max Brooks’s bestselling Zombie Survival Guide. The Apocalypse in the title is desperate hyperbole, born of the same impulse that leads blundering social-medialites to overaccessorize a post with a half-dozen hashtags.
So maybe back when it was Scouts Versus Zombies, someone had high hopes to make a sharp, distinctive comedy, and the effort just never made it to the screen.
It’s possible, but regardless, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse feels like a monstrous creation born in a movie lab. It’s a ramshackle thing-that-was-never-meant-to-be, roughly assembled from the mismatched parts of several disparate corpses and the transplanted brain of a dimwitted sex offender. By the time the credits roll, one question will be definitively answered in the positive: “I wonder if these guys saw Superbad and Zombieland?”
Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is predicated on the notion that there’s no end to the demand for zombie comedies (despite Shaun of the Dead, Warm Bodies, Fido, Zombie Strippers, Life After Beth, Juan of the Dead, et cetera), and also that the Boy Scouts are a thing so that might as well be the other half of the gimmick.
The scouts here are a trio of grade-school buddies who have grown apart. Fast-talking but never funny-talking Carter (Logan Miller) is only interested in trying to meet girls with his buddy Ben (Tye Sheridan), a blank spot where the hero should be. Their chubby, earnest tagalong Augie (Joey Morgan) is on the verge of earning his Falcon Award (that’s copyright-speak for Eagle Scout), and they’ve remained in the three-person troop out of loyalty to him as rationalized in some clunky, inconsequential exposition about his dead dad.
Carter convinces Ben to ditch the campout in favor of an improbably elaborate senior graduation party, and while they’re gone, the promised zombie apocalypse occurs. The boys must reunite and put all their scouting skills to use to rescue the various girls they want to sleep with at the party, which is threatened by twenty or so recurring zombie extras.
Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse— or as it shall hereafter be known, SGZA, which sounds like something a zombie would say— can be forgiven for its low-budget shoddiness. Shoddiness can be an asset in a grungy genre, but the ineffectual SGZA relies on jokes over scares. The result is like the disastrous B-roll to an Apatow movie, with crude frankness passed off as wit. The dialogue comes off more perfunctory than lively, which is a shame because the thin plot seems to exist solely as an excuse to keep delivering more bad jokes.
Poor David Koechner is much abused here as Scout Leader Rodgers. He brings the lion’s share of the laughs to the movie in his couple of brief scenes, then gets reduced to a (sort of) living punchline. Director Christopher Landon sadistically keeps cutting from the always-on-point comedian in favor of our charmless trio of leads.
Don’t blame the kids, though. The utterly bland, affectless Sheridan was terrific and naturalistic in Mud. The young actors are just caught in SGZA’s charisma vortex, which takes veteran Saturday Night Live-player chops to escape.
They’re given little help as they stumble through a wasteland of clichés where all women are neatly divided into virginal dreamgirls and sexpot strippers. It’s intentionally sophomoric. Trouble is, the average sophomore of 2015 has access to a legion of endlessly streaming content providers and a digital library of every book, movie, TV show, and music video ever made. If you’re gonna make something for sophomores, it’s gonna have to be entertaining.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.