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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Cooties (2014) – Review

Blending horror and comedy is tricky business, getting the necessary ingredients could land you a film like Shaun of the Dead, but miss a few integral elements and the result could be something more along the lines of today’s entry Cooties.
*Spoiler Warning*
The key ingredient for me is the likability of the characters. You can have a person be an oblivious idiot, as in the aforementioned Shaun of the Dead, or a pompous jerk like Ash in Army of Darkness, but there still has to be something to their character that endears us to them. Something identifiable. This for me was what directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion failed to provide in their film. (Wait, this thing needed two directors?) The film's protagonist is Clint Hadson (Elijah Wood), a failed author who has returned to his home town of Fort Chicken to take a job as a substitute teacher. Every cliché of the “Failed Author” is trotted out here, right down to him back home living with his mother, but the script doesn’t bother to add any real personality to Clint. He’s a shitty writer, has a crush on an old classmate, and…nope, that’s it, nothing else.


He makes Charlie Brown look like a dynamo of charisma.

The story itself is just a mishmash of 28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead. Tainted chicken nuggets cause elementary school student Shelly Linker (Sunny May Allison) to go into full on rage virus mode against fellow student, and complete shit, Patriot (Cooper Roth). After biting a chunk out of his face she disappears into the playground while Clint takes the boy to the nurse’s office. The laissez faire attitude that both Clint and the nurse have towards a little girl biting piece out of another child may have been a comic jab at society’s social decline towards indifference, but really it just comes across as strange and lazy. The nurse tells Clint that the injury will need stitches, that there is nothing she can do and he needs to go to the hospital, but then the scene just ends with no real resolution. He is later seen running around infecting kids on the playground.


Should someone at least call this kid’s parents?

Now Patriot, named such because he was born on 9/11, is the kind of rotten kid the populates movies, but is too broad even for a comedy. He drops the “F” bomb constantly and calls Clint a cunt. Later when Clint is having a break in the teacher’s lounge with his long-time crush Lucy McCormick (Allison Pill), he recounts to her the events in his classroom, she asks him if Shelly was sent to the principal’s office and his response is, “Are you kidding? I wanted to give her a high five. That kid was a dick.” Sure, kids like that we'd love to see get their comeuppance, but a child dying or being mutilated is a bit too horrifying for this kind of karmic payback, and Clint's attitude here is just bizarre . This may have been intended to be funny, but all it did was make the movies “hero” come across as self-centered unlikable jerk. Sadly most of the characters in this movie, with the exception of Lucy, are pretty damn unlikable.


Case in point P.E. teacher Wade Johnson (Rainn Wilson).

Wade is your stereotypical movie/television gym teacher, he is a jerk and a bully, and our heroes rival for the affections of Lucy. We may wonder what a sweet girl is doing dating a complete asshat like Wade, but the script certainly doesn’t. He isn’t even the worst use of comedy in this film; there is Rebbekah Halverson (Nasim Pedrad) who wears a rape alarm because of the State’s conceal and carry laws, then there's Tracy Lacey (Jack McBrayer), a billboard for gay stereotypes, who shockingly reveals to his fellow teachers that he is…gay (that's comedy folks), and then we have Doug (Leigh Whannell) the school’s science and health teacher who suffers from the type of Asperger syndrome only to be found in the movies. He reads books like “How to Have a Normal Conversation” and performs autopsies on the infected kids, and sticks his hands in shit and vomit.


I’m betting he got his hands like that from reading the script.

Now about these “zombie” kids. From Doug’s autopsy we learn that the higher brain functions of the infected kids have already started to decay, but the part controlling their motor functions, allowing them to run and kill, are just fine, yet we see Patriot ripping out the phone’s land lines, stomping all the cellphone, cutting the school’s power, and he seems to be leader of the murderous moppets. That is certainly higher brain function then you get from your typical zombie.  This stems from the movie’s apparent need for a central villain when the stories basic premise doesn’t support having one.


A jaw droppingly lame villain.

Given all the missteps this movie makes it isn’t completely without merit, there happens to be a couple of decent scenes. The best one of these concerns one of the non-infected kids the teachers have rescued who turns out to be diabetic, and he needs food quickly or else he will slip into a coma. This leads to Clint being volunteered to go into the school’s air ducts to make his way to the vending machine in the teacher’s lounge. Lucy, fed up with all the idiocy of her fellow teachers, joins Clint inside the ducts, the incredibly, improbably large ducts.


It’s Die Hard with zombies.

The absurdity of hordes of small children fighting adults is rife with comic possibilities, but most of the movie’s running time is squandered on lame jokes between the quarreling teachers. We get very few scenes where the zombie kids seem to pose any kind of threat, and with the exception of a little zombie girl on a tricycle, we don’t get even much in the horror factor either. Worse is that they constantly cut away from the “action” to show us stoner crossing guard Rick (Jorge Garcia) who hides out in his van eating shrooms.


I guess laughter is supposed to relieve tension…now if only they provided tension.

Then we come to the ending, or as I would call it, “We ran out of money.” The group of teachers manage to escape the school, get into Wade’s monster truck, and drive to the neighbouring town of Danville, unfortunately not only has the plague spread to this town as well, but going by news reports, it has spread across the entire country. The film ends with them driving off into the night with Lucy asking, “Where are we going?” and Clint answering. “Some place kids don’t want to go.” And that’s the end, we never learn what place Clint was thinking of (a library or old folks home?) or what happens to our merry band of assholes. If this is supposed to be some kind of stinger ending it fails, or if it is setting up for a sequel then the producers of this film were insanely optimistic.


“I’m going to be the Mad Max of zombie killing in the sequel.”

There are a lot worse zombie films out there, and certainly a lot worse comedies, but the sad thing here is that with the amount of actual talented actors on screen it’s just such a huge waste of potential.


"Tonight on Teaching Dead."

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