There are plenty of reasons that I wanted to like Todd Rohal’s Nature Calls. It’s an oddball but sweet-hearted comedy produced independently on a tiny budget with a great cast. Unfortunately, the promises contained in those truths was not to be fulfilled.
Patton Oswalt and Johnny Knoxville play brothers whose fundamentally different philosophies of life are encapsulated in a childhood rift over the Boy Scouts. Oswalt’s Randy was dedicated to their troop – and to their father, who led it – while Kirk hated scouting and got out as soon as he could, never to look back. Now they are grown men and the single, childless Randy is the local troop leader. When the married and recent adoptive father Kirk refuses to let his son go on the troop’s camping trip, Randy kidnaps the boy and brings him along to the woods.
In addition to Oswalt and Knoxville, the cast is highly impressive. Rob Riggle plays Kirk’s psychotically confident business partner. Darrell Hammond is a park ranger. Character actor Eddie Rouse (one of David Gordon Green’s go-to guys) is Randy’s assistant troop leader. The great Maura Tierney is Kirk’s perpetually over-it wife. And the late Patrice O’Neal steals the show as the father of one of Randy’s scouts.
Despite the best efforts of all those listed above, however, they are unable to overcome the generally weak dialogue provided by Rohal. The emotional arc of each character could practically be predicted from the outset by anyone who’s so much as seen a movie before. Tierney’s efforts to make an actual character out of what she’s given are noble but she is ultimately left with too little to use. What’s worse than the character failings, though, is that even the jokes don’t work. While throwaway lines are consistently well-sold by the cast, the more effortful comedic exercises routinely fall flat. For instance, an extended bit wherein Knoxville is, essentially, crucified never makes any more of its premise than I’ve just described to you.
While Rohal has assembled all the parts of the plot needed to tell his story, the film still feels unfinished. Its construction is loose and not in the way that can sometimes benefit comedies. Instead, this one seems more like a rough cut that needs a lot of trimming.
Todd Rohal pulled together a wonderful cast and got a strange little movie made. For what it’s worth, that’s impressive on its own. But now that he’s proven he has the drive, he next needs to acquire a point of view.