Zombie attacks have been so prevalent in movies and television recently (and books, as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies demonstrated) that zombies have essentially become their own genre. With films like Zombieland, World War Z and Warm Bodies joining the television show The Walking Dead (and its spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead) on our screens, the presence of undead, hungry-for-human beasts alone is no longer enough for any piece of art to differentiate itself from the masses. In an effort to stand out, Christopher Landon's Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse takes the raunchy route, aiming squarely for the male late-teen demographic with this gratuitous, foul-mouthed romp.
The plot follows three Scouts, two of whom have decided they are going to leave the troop, and sooner rather than later. Ben (Tye Sheridan, of Mud acclaim), the main character and protagonist, is trying to maintain his friendship with fellow Scout Augie (Joey Morgan), who has been leaning on his best friend following the death of his father. Brash troop member Carter (Logan Miller), however, is concerned only with getting action and attention from his female classmates, and can't ditch Augie and their scheduled camp-out soon enough after learning that he has been invited to a "secret senior party" thanks to his older sister Kendall (Halston Sage), who Ben happens to have a massive crush on. After a chance run-in with a former high-school hottie named Denise (Sarah Dumont) en route to picking up beers, Ben and Carter head into the woods to set up camp, then promptly ditch the emotionally fragile Augie. The pals are, of course, cut off on their way to the secret party by an ill-timed zombie outbreak that has turned the town into a doomed disaster zone. They are aided early on in their journey by Denise, who joins them as they pick up Augie and race towards the revelers, who are both at a secret location and blissfully unaware that the military plans on bombing the city in precisely two hours to stop the zombie infestation.
There are several different aspects of Scouts Guide that help to make it, at its best, goofy lowbrow fun. The millennial-friendly soundtrack is stocked with recognizable, upbeat pop favorites, often accompanied with slow-motion close ups and wide shots that pay off more frequently than not. The movie opens with a tour-de-force physical-comedy performance by Blake Anderson, star of Comedy Central's Workaholics, and his intro certainly make viewers wish that he appeared more often in the picture. The action sequences are also set up nicely, especially those involving well-known comedy star David Koechner (Anchorman, Thank You for Smoking).
Mostly, however, Scouts Guide can't stop getting in its own way. The screenplay, courtesy of Landon and collaborators Emi Mochizuki, Lona Williams and Carrie Evans, is not up to par. The dialogue is unapologetically sophomoric through and through, which would be fine if the script included witty banter and turns of phrases destined to be repeated by viewers for days or weeks afterwards. Scouts Guide doesn't shoot for anything higher than the cheap laugh, though. The tidy "lessons learned" and revelatory monologues are geared more towards a younger audience, which is in direct opposition to the preponderance of scantily clad women and foul-mouthed language that justify the picture's R-rating. Neither of those aspects are deal-breakers, but the combination results in a film that isn't sure whether it wants to be 'tween fare or Superbad. Any subtext in dialogue is virtually absent after the first 10 minutes or so, and the movie leans heavily on a female objectification complex that is lazy at best (a problem which manifests itself perfectly in the utterly annoying, selfie-obsessed Carter character).
Scouts Guide works well when it's not trying desperately to elicit laughter or titillation. Sheridan is already on a fast track for big things and a long career, and Joey Morgan is terrific as Augie, elevating what could have been a pitiable character into a genial, believable sidekick and confidante. His interactions with Koechner's Scout Leader rank among the film's biggest highlights. Unfortunately, most of Scouts Guide is disposable, as it tries to shoot for both laughs and heart without earning the requisite badges.