In the English language, the phrase Nature Calls has a few different connotations. The title of this film, which recently had its world premiere at SXSW 2012, refers to men going into the woods to become men. The woods, Earth, nature is calling them for something greater. However, the more appropriate connotation would be when the phrase refers to someone going to the bathroom. Because that’s more akin to what the film is.

Written and directed by Todd Rohal, Nature Calls stars Patton Oswalt as a Boy Scout enthusiast who takes a group of reluctant Scouts into the woods to try and revitalize his dying troop, only to be chased down by his anti-Scout brother, played by Johnny Knoxville. It also stars Rob Riggle, Maura Tierny, Darrell Hammond, and the late, great Patrice O’Neal, to whom the film is dedicated. As a huge fan of O’Neal’s, it truly pains me to say these things about the movie, but he would have agreed. Nature Calls is like an animal distracted by a shiny thing. It’s dumb and all over the place with nothing to say.

The beginning of Nature Calls exhibits unlimited potential. There’s a tense, well-shot scene that seems like it’s going to pay off with a huge laugh. It builds and builds but the laugh never comes. The scene, and the movie, just sort of sputters away like a balloon without a knot. That’s your indication you should be buckled up for massive frustration.

Very rarely does something in the film pay off. It just keeps awkwardly setting up things, and then going in the totally opposite direction. For example, Riggle’s character continually makes overly sexist remarks toward his friend’s wife (Tierney). Which would have been fine if anything came of it. Instead, she just takes it, coming off as weak-willed and okay with being told her place is to watch the kids and make food. Then his character, the sexist pig, doesn’t apologize or get judged for it. He just – with no motivation – decides to change his career. In doing so, the movie comes off incredibly sexist, which I’m sure wasn’t the point. That’s juts one example but it’s all quite confusing.

There’s no surprise these characters, and the audience, feel confused, because Nature Calls is confused at what it wants to be. Multiple scenes attempt to be poignant and sweet, but are soon derailed by an attempt at mad cap or toilet humor. It’s almost as if Rohal just told everyone in every scene to go as over the top as possible. (Save for the stoic Oswalt, whose performance is actually decent.) Maybe he was hoping the result would be something funny and wacky like Wet Hot American Summer.

The problem is that film, and others like it, knew what they were. Even when they were crazy, everything fit together because of a cohesive tone. Nature Calls goes from being about sibling rivalry and a man making his dad proud, to literally blowing up a character, and severely burning another. People needlessly shoot BB guns at each other before a car wreck, and then a naked girl rides by on a motorcycle, all while kids are innocent bystanders. There’s even narration that make it seem like it’s about something more. The film is a terrible mess. And while there are some laughs to be had, and I guess it could be deemed a valiant effort, more often than not you’ll shake your head in frustration.

Patrice, I’m sorry. I have to do this.

/Film rating: 1 out of 10

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About the Author

Germain graduated NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Cinema Studies program in 2002 and won back to back First Place awards for film criticism from the New York State Associated Press in 2006 and 2007.

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