You’d think we’d have run out of zom-com ideas by now. After all, in the last few years alone, we’ve seen Abraham Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies), Romeo and Juliet (Warm Bodies), and Bill Murray (Zombieland) each take their turn battling the undead, and next year, Lizzie Bennet will destroy some reanimated corpses in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. So for Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse to stand out in an already crowded field, it would have to bring something new to the category’s recurring themes. Instead, it doubles down on gross-out sight gags that 13-year-old boys should find hilarious, if no one else.
Our khaki-clad heroes are a trio of dweeby sophomores, including Ben (Tye Sheridan) and Carter (Logan Miller), who have been longing to quit Scouts. (Not Boy Scouts, just Scouts.) So far, they’ve stuck with it to spare the feelings of their even geekier friend Augie (newcomer Joey Morgan), but they soon decide to ditch his campout in the woods for the much cooler senior party. Unfortunately, by the time they make it back to town, a zombie virus has already turned most of its inhabitants into the bloodthirsty undead, and after Ben and Carter reunite with a dejected Augie and team up with Denise the strip club cocktail waitress (Sarah Dumont), they have to rely on their scouting skills to help them make it through the night.
It’s not exactly a surprise that a movie obsessed with zombie breasts has under-developed female characters, but it’s still disappointing. Dumont tries her best, but she’s stuck playing a one-dimensional caricature of the girl whose only traits are her looks and her ability to wield a shotgun. And as Carter’s older sister and Ben’s longtime crush, Halston Sage is little more than a plot device to be found and rescued. One of the only actresses who actually gets to do anything is poor Cloris Leachman, who deserves so much better than becoming an undead cat lady and gnawing on a teenager’s bare buttocks.
One of Scouts’ only standouts is Sheridan, who’s spent the last few years racking up some critically-adored performances in films like Mud and The Stanford Prison Experiment. Here, he manages to bring a little heart and believability when the movie’s lessons about friendship and staying true to yourself start to feel cloying.
Even with director Christopher Landon, who wrote four entries in the Paranormal Activity franchise, the film relies far more on undead nudity and gross-out humor than actual scares. (At one point, Ben has to hang onto a zombie penis to avoid falling out of a window.) After decades of well-trodden zombie tropes, a successful zombie movie has to be at least one of three things: a) original b) funny or c) actually scary. Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse doesn’t earn a merit badge in any one of those categories. C-