Ever notice that it’s almost always a bad sign when an R-rated animated movie brags about being an R-rated animated movie? The one exception might be SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER AND UNCUT (1999), but other than that the pickings are slim. I had this realization watching Chris Prynoski’s NERDLAND, a very graphic animated comedy filled to the brim with boobs, boners, and buttholes. The first feature film by animation house Titmouse, Inc—the company behind the wildly entertaining METALOCALYPSE and the unjustly-canceled MOTORCITY—I was jazzed going into it. Its inclusion of nerd luminaries Paul Rudd and Patton Oswalt as lead voice actors was just the icing on the cake. But as the film played my enthusiasm dwindled. What could have been a wildly original and creative assault on American celebrity culture dried up in favor of a few moments of brilliance mixed into a mire of mediocrity. What’s worse: it isn’t even that funny.
Rudd and Oswalt respectively play aspiring actor John and hack screenwriter Elliot as they seek some means of becoming famous. Numerous attempts at going viral—giving a homeless bum a novelty-sized check, trying to incite the police to beat them on camera—fail, leading them to the conclusion that the only way they can become famous is to become infamous. Their solution is naturally a killing spree. Of course, neither of them know how to murder somebody and neither particularly want to. But that doesn’t stop them trying. I loved this set-up—it’s like if Hunter S. Thompson did a rewrite of Mel Brooks’s THE PRODUCERS.
But because NERDLAND feels less like a full-length film and more like three or four episodes of a television show smashed together, it’s dropped after maybe fifteen minutes in favor of another plot thread. The rest of the film wallows in predictable anti-Hollywood tropes, rehashing recycled observations about the shallowness of the film industry and pop culture in general. But it doesn’t really have anything to say about either. It’s just a series of mean-spirited and off-color jokes. This would be fine if the jokes are funny. But as we’ve already established, they’re mostly not. It’s a shame that such wonderful, kinetic animation was wasted on such subpar material. And may I ask the point of recruiting a battalion of famous comedians for bit roles if you won’t have them say or do anything funny?
Score: 5 out of 10
Nate Hood is Screen Comment’s main film critic in New York. Follow him here @NateHood257