Writer-director Todd Rohal made one of the strangest movie comedies of recent years with 2011’s The Catechism Cataclysm, but his follow-up, Nature Calls, aims to be more conventional, and ends up being less funny. Patton Oswalt stars as a scoutmaster whose troop of boys have all lost interest in scouting, in part because they’ve been overly pampered by parents who don’t want them venturing anywhere further than the nearest shopping-mall parking lot. So Oswalt decides to scrap the permission slips, luring the kids away from a slumber party to go hike and camp in a restricted area of a local state park, where outdoor living is more fun. But the party from which he swipes the kids is being hosted by Oswalt’s rich douchebag brother Johnny Knoxville, who rejected scouting and its values at an early age. What follows is a raunchy, juvenile spin on the ’70s slob-com, with the children of suburban McMansions learning to love spending their weekends scratching insect bites and peeling potatoes.
There’s nothing wrong with the idea of trying to make a Bad News Bears for the ’10s, and Rohal has the comic talent in front of the camera to do the job. In addition to Oswalt and Knoxville, he has Maura Tierney as Knoxville’s wife, who tries to distract the other moms while her husband heads into the woods to retrieve their kids. Rob Riggle plays Knoxville’s boneheaded business partner, and Patrice O’Neal is the irritable father of one of the scouts. But the humor in Nature Calls tends toward the dopey and obvious, with jokes based on the adults inadvertently trying to get the boys to touch them inappropriately, or the boys reveling in chanting “shit,” “tits,” and “butt.”
Rohal really only starts to twist the movie toward the end, right around the time the kids start chanting “Angina! Angina!” at a man having a heart attack, and when Knoxville has an encounter with a campfire that leaves him with his Bluetooth earpiece fused to his head. The man who made The Catechism Cataclysm (and The Guatemalan Handshake before that) asserts himself when one religious scout ties Knoxville to a “stretcher” that looks exactly like a cross, and raises him up in front of a gaggle of outraged mothers. That’s a moment that hints at what Nature Calls could’ve been: not just a comedy with cussin’ kids, but something more deranged.