Starring: Elijah Wood, Alison Pill, Rainn Wilson, Jack McBrayer, Leigh Whannell, Nasim Pedrad, Jorge Garcia
Rated R for Horror Violence and Gore, Language including Sexual References, and Some Drug Use
Ah, cooties. The predecessor of hormonal confusion. All the awkwardness, none of the...well, you know. I'd rather not mention that when referring to kids. Not that it matters, since that has little to do with kids themselves. Nor this movie, in fact. This is a zombie comedy (without the zombies) where the villains become undead as a result of a very bad chicken nugget. And you thought "Super Size Me" had it in for fast food...
Clint (Wood) is a hack writer having returned home to Fort Chicken, IL after his career as a writer never took off. To pay the bills, he's returning to his old elementary school as a substitute English teacher. However, things don't turn out the way he expects: he runs into an old flame, Lucy (Pill), who's dating the psychotic gym teacher Wade (Wilson), the teachers are lunatics, and the kids are monsters. Just when it couldn't get any worse, they start eating each other. And the teachers are next on the menu.
Naturally, the filmmakers know that this script could never be taken seriously, and they had to good sense not to even try. However, while it's certainly not scary, it's not all that funny either. The set-up is worthy of a few chuckles, but it quickly becomes apparent that "Cooties" doesn't really have anything to bring to the table. That's surprising considering that the screenplay was co-written by Leigh Whannell (who, along with James Wan, has reinvigorated the horror genre) and Ian Brennan (who gave us "Glee"). About the only new twist is that these kids can plan and think. But I suppose since they're just afflicted with cooties and not the resurrected dead (although, considering what they do to each other, they're probably that too), it's not really worth noting.
I got the sense that this was an instance where the goal of the movie was less about turning a profit than giving the actors an excuse to have fun. No one is taking this movie seriously, and it shows. It's impossible for Elijah Wood to give a bad performance, but the only thing worth noting is that he lets off a few of the seven words you can't say on television. Yes, Frodo drops a few f-bombs. Alison Pill is flat as the ever chirpy Lucy. Rainn Wilson does his usual disaffected dweeb schtick, which has long since become annoying. Jack McBrayer would be funnier had he been given funnier things to do. Leigh Whannel takes social awkwardness to a level never before seen. And Jorge Garcia is wasted as the drugged up crosswalk guard.
Just like the last movie I reviewed, "Lowriders," there's another movie that does the same thing, only better. Two, in fact. "Zombieland" is an obvious choice, but my personal preference is "Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse," which is funnier, more subversive, and more clever than either of them. The writing is sharper, the acting is better, the timing is perfect, and it's a whole lot funnier. "Cooties" isn't terrible, but the underrated gem from two years ago possesses more creativity and a bigger bite. No pun intended.