Do you remember weekends in nature with the Boy Scouts? If so, you’re increasingly in the minority. The group’s membership has declined by almost half since the ‘70s, and regretful policies and revelations aren’t helping chances for a resurgence. In Nature Calls, a decidedly unfunny comedy starring Patton Oswalt and Johnny Knoxville, a small town’s boy scouts troop has been reduced to three members, none of whom are particularly enthused about what counts as an excursion these days: camping in the church parking lot. But for scoutmaster Randy (Oswalt), the organization’s downfall is no small matter. A generation of nature lovers and his family’s legacy is at stake.
On the eve of the church camping trip, for which Randy has proudly brought along his ailing, former scoutmaster father, Stuart (John Tobias), all three remaining scouts bail in favor of a slumber party at Randy’s brother Kirk’s (Knoxville) house. Kirk and his wife, Janine (Maura Tierney), are celebrating their 10-year-old son’s adoption day—and since the kid was adopted from Africa, he naturally doesn’t speak much and has a knack for surviving in nature. The slumber party actually offers a dark vision of what a turn away from nature brought on by overprotective parenting might sow: wide-eyed, sugar-high kids and two beer-guzzling adults watching over half a dozen TVs tuned to different channels while yelling almost constantly. It’s startling and, in its outlandishness, effectively disturbing.
Unfortunately, most of Nature Calls only apes the party’s hyperactivity and lack of focus. Writer-director Todd Rohal fills muddled scenes with manic amounts of jokes that all manage to land with a thud. The film’s pace settles in slightly when Randy comes to the slumber party and convinces all the kids to sneak away for a real camping trip in real nature. This forces Kirk, who hates nature and scouting, to rush out in pursuit and retrieve the children, leading to a final stretch where Rohal hits a couple of strides: a gag surrounding a stretcher made from two logs in the shape of a cross—“like the one in the bible”—is the film’s high point.
Otherwise the movie is a collection of the derivative and totally expected. You get a scene with a creepy, homoerotic cop; an unfiltered, misogynist best friend; and of course the requisite amount of urination, injuries, and gratuitous nudity. A scout’s fathers puts it best when another character makes a random derogatory remark about his faith: “That’s some unnecessary shit you just said.” Amen.