Starring Nicholas Braun, Mackenzie Davis, Josh Fadem, Vanessa Hudgens, Denis Leary
Directed by Rob Pickering
Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (review) wasn’t the only horror comedy unceremoniously dumped into theaters this past Halloween weekend. After languishing in limbo for some time now, Sony finally decided at the last minute to roll out Freaks of Nature onto about 100 or so screens with little fanfare.
Originally titled Kitchen Sink, no doubt a reference to the “Adult Swim” anything goes nature of the premise, a better title for this unfocused genre comedy might have been Clusterfuck since that’s a more accurate description of what’s in store for viewers. Freaks of Nature hits the ground running with no setup to this world of man and monsters living side-by-side, leaving the viewer to figure out what little there is to figure out. Not that specifics matters much since the plot has that “making it up as they go along, throw something against the wall and hope it sticks” quality.
The aliens can’t see you if you’re wearing clothes. Why? Because nudity alone is supposed to be inherently funny, I suppose?
Too much of the humor consists of long-winded diatribes that confuse yelling lines with being funny and assumes just saying the most irreverent thing possible in the situation will automatically induce laughter. You can practically see the flop sweat trickling down Denis Leary’s wooly cheeks as he struggles to make his usual aggressively above-it-all attitude work with the material he’s been given.
Welcome to Dillford, Ohio. Humans, vampires, and zombies live side-by-side and attend school together as if there’s nothing really all that out of the ordinary about it. Dillford is also the home of the “riblet,” a hugely popular meat sandwich product that factors into the climax in the stupidest way possible. Stupid… and not in a good way.
Dorky baseball pitcher Dag has the hots for his sexy pothead neighbor, Lorelei, too hormonally charged to realize she only uses him as nothing more than her “weed locker” to hide her stash from her parents. Dag’s hippie parents warn him that he will soon experience a big change, a twist you will see coming from many miles away and one that takes so long to pay off, I began to wonder if they’d forgotten about it.
Dag used to be good friends with school nerd Ned until he decided he wanted to try to be cooler. Ned now finds himself a bullied loner constantly living in the shadow of his jock older brother, whose promising baseball career is all their idiot parents care about. When Ned tells his father he wants to go to college to become an engineer, Dad replies, “How many times have I told you: Nobody rides trains anymore.” That’s one of the better jokes.
Ned befriends a cute zombie girl and decides the walking dead’s perpetual numbness is what he needs to deal with his own crippling emotional pain. Even zombified, his smarts quickly make him the de facto leader of the zombies. His brainiac know-how will also be required to help save the town when aliens attack, an odd quirk of zombies in this world being that the longer they go without eating brains, the smarter they become. The rule only seems to apply to Ned, though.
Mackenzie Davis (“Halt and Catch Fire”) proves to be the movie’s standout as Petra, a Bella Swan-esque teenage girl being seduced by the hottest vampire in school. One thing Freaks of Nature gets right is the true nature of what a high school populated by vampires would really be like. They’re arrogant pricks that seduce lovelorn teenage girls and use their powers to bully mortals. Sounds about right.
Petra’s story arc can easily be construed as a metaphor for naive teenage girls falling prey to romantic advances of sexual predators that take their virtue, dump them as soon as they get what they want, and leave them with a permanent STD. Though, in this instance, the STD is vampirism. Davis is so good in her role that I kind of wish the whole movie had been a Twilight riff about her using her newfound bloodsucking powers to gain revenge against the Edward Cullen-esque vampire that preyed upon her.
When an alien mothership parks itself over the town, the humans for whatever reason instantly distrust the vampires because, I guess, they naturally assume vampires are supposed to make first contact with extraterrestrials. Beats me. Equally stupid and prejudiced, the vampires get riled up, believing the humans have somehow summoned forth the aliens to destroy their kind. The mindless zombies just want to know why their daily delivery of brain-in-a-sardine-can rations haven’t arrived. This leads to a gory three-way battle royale between the human/vampire/zombie factions that gets interrupted when the aliens decide to launch their attack.
The calamity brings together human Dag, vamp Petra, and zombie Ned, forcing them to put aside their differences and, in the case of Petra and Ned, overcome their monstrous hunger, to figure out what the aliens want and how to stop them. It’s also at this point that Freaks of Nature takes an unexpected turn into John Hughes territory and finds some actual traction. The chemistry between the three leads as they bond almost salvages what had been up until this point a messy mash-up comedy with far more misses than hits.
That goodwill gets scuttled during the simultaneously lazy and stupid climax when we learn the moronic motivations behind the alien invasion, and far too many of the jokes simply rely on someone dropping a version of the f-bomb as the punchline.
If you get Werner Herzog to provide the voice of the lead alien and random profanities are the best lines you can provide him, talk about a wasted opportunity.
Herzog isn’t alone. Bob Odenkirk and Joan Cusack are criminally wasted as Dag’s dippy parents. Patton Oswalt does another variation of the basement-dwelling, momma’s boy nerd he’s done many times before. Keegan-Michael Key plays yet another version of his high-strung schoolteacher character, except in this case he’s also a vampire and gets fewer laughs. Much of what little marketing there has been for the movie would lead you to believe Vanessa Hudgens has a larger role than she does. She’s barely in it, and when she is, all she does is look gorgeous and play stoned.
Freaks of Nature scores a few laughs here and there and occasionally threatens to turn into an actual movie, but it never lives up to the outlandishness of its own setup. If not for the strength of the three leads, I’d be able to write it off completely. Instead I can only recommend it as a mild diversion to kill some time with when it arrives on DVD/VOD, which is where it probably should have debuted to begin with.
But it’s still better than Vampires Suck. That has to count for something, right? Right?