George Romero, the brains behind Night of the Living Dead (1968) and the godfather of the now-beloved zombie apocalypse, had a flair for the critical. His first genre-defining flick was seen as a commentary on the racial tensions of the 1960s; sequel Dawn of the Dead (1978), a critique of vapid consumerism; Land of the Dead (2005), a limp follow-up to the often-ignored Day of the Dead (1985), a jeremiad against corporate greed and the rising plutocracy that's defined the post-9/11 U.S. economy.
Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, the new horror comedy directed by Christopher B. Landon and starring Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, Joey Morgan, Sarah Dumont, and David Koechner, has none of these things. The movie mixes the ribald debauchery of a National Lampoonwith the campiness of a mid-seventies B horror flicks into the most ridiculous bildungsroman I've ever seen. While it's an entertaining, fast-paced comedy, the jokes are often stifled and weak, the characters all inherently unlikable. It's the most brainless comedy I've ever seen.
The Scouts Guide is ripped right from Superbad: Three high school sophomores — an upstanding hero, a wannabe badboy, and a poor hapless geek — make schemes to score booze and crash the senior party with the hopes of actually getting their dicks touched for once in their sad, pathetic lives. Hero Tye Sheridan and Bad Boy Logan Miller, sick and tired of wasting their time with a Scout troupe that never seems to grow, aim to ditch Geek Joey Morgan, only to find themselves surrounded by flesh-eating ghouls and their hometown hours from obliteration by the U.S. military. With the help of stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold Sarah Dumont, the trio arm themselves in improvised weapons (the only truly funny sequence in the entire film) and *yawn* save the day.
It's a great concept, but Scouts Guide somehow managed to go a *bit* too far, playing on the dirty impulses of teenage boys for cheap laughs rather than serving up the usual platter of macabre irony — think Nick Frost's Ed in Shaun of the Dead insisting on driving a Jaguar, despite space constraints — that makes zombie comedies work. One sequence where Sheridan saves himself from falling into a horde of zombies by holding onto a slowly-tearing zombie dick is at least a minute too long and incredibly uncomfortable; I could hear my fellow reviewers squirming in their seats. Another scene, where Miller takes a minute to cop a feel on a well-endowed zombie cop, is just outright gross.
There are plenty of great jokes throughout the film — Koechner, as a half-burned zombie Scoutmaster with a Dolly Parton fixation, and a Brittney Spears sing-a-long with a zombie hobo are particularly funny — but they're spoiled by what seems like a desperate impact to pack as many dick jokes and adolescent fantasies into an hour and a half to appease an audience of teenage boys. There's nothing wrong with toilet humor (here at Maxim, we embrace it like the morning after a bender), but Scouts Guide somehow manages to mistake coarse and tasteless for bawdy and mischievous. Jesus fucking Christ, sometimes less is more.
So yes, go ahead and see Scouts Guide. For all its awkward moments, it's definitely an entertaining little morsel of sugar, perfect to help ween you off your Halloween binge. But don't expect to be blown away. While it's certainly possible to mix humor and horror into an potent concoction — Shaun of the Dead pioneered the idea of the 'rom-zom-com' (romantic zombie comedy, lol), and Zombieland managed to bottle up some laughs into a more polished package — Scouts Guide tries way too hard. If you don't see it in theaters, that's OK too: We're sure this thing will find a life after death somewhere in the bowels of Netflix.
Photos by Paramount Pictures