Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse feels like a pick’n’mix of post-apocalyptic movie tropes, with some sexual pandering and surprisingly touching moments thrown in just to confuse things. It starts out fairly conventional but in a pleasant, confident sort of way. The hero and his foil are well cast and likeable, and the friendship between the central trio of scouts is mildly stirring. The slapstick trailer belies how much heart this movie actually strives and, in the first act anyway, succeeds.”
There’s very little consistency in the type of zombie we’re dealing with here. Some of them are your classic, shambling Romero numbskulls, others are of the 28 Days Later breakneck speed variety, and still others seem to retain a small bit of their personality and complete tasks ranging in complexity from opening a door to dancing on a stripper pole. It allows for some funny sight gags when a zombie is unexpectedly able to do something unusual for a zombie, but mostly it dilutes the drama to where you’re never really sure what the stakes are.
Behind the gross out gags and the juvenile humour though, there’s an almost-touching story here about three friends growing apart as the world collapses around them. But the movie seems hell-bent on avoiding any actual pathos in favour of cheap one-liners and squeezing every last ounce of wit it can out of the zombie gimmick. But Zombieland this is not. There’s just too little to latch onto here. It feels less like a story and more like a grab-bag of set pieces and comedy bits – so much so that when it does delve momentarily into some real storytelling it feels jarring and out of place.
David Koechner is great as a Dolly Parton obsessed scout leader while Logan Millar and Joey Morgan do a good job as the funny man and the butt of the joke, respectively. They give the hero, Tye Sheridan, something more tangible than the potential affection of that girl to fight for. Halston Sage punches her card once again as that girl, with another role that’s less about acting and more about being born genetically flawless. Sarah Dumont pours every ounce of ability she has into a role that feels like it was begrudgingly inserted after a focus group complained about the lack of female characters. But her cocktail waitress turned shotgun enthusiast Denise is so thinly drawn that most of her lines are just transparent exposition.
After a muddy mid-section full of hit-and-miss comedy, Scouts Guide… just about finds its feet again towards the end, when most of the madcap Magyver action from the trailer plays out. But by that time you’re not likely going to care what happens to the characters and will be in it just for the R-rated gore and carnage. Though the kernel of a good story about three friends crouches safely at this film’s core, it’s surrounded by a swirling vortex of whatever the filmmakers could rip off from better zombie movie predecessors. It just seems a waste that a studio chose to go with focus group storytelling over making its own mark on an already well-worn genre.