Box Office Democracy: “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse”
In his wildly popular book on screenwriting Save the Cat!, Blake Snyder suggests that every movie needs to fulfill the promise of the premise; to give the audience all of the things they expect to see in the movie based on the title and the promotional materials. You can’t make Legally Blonde without having scenes where a ditzy girl applies her skills as a socialite to the buttoned-up world of law school and you can’t make Star Wars without having some interstellar battles. Unfortunately, Scouts Guide to the Apocalypse didn’t take this to heart as it’s a generic teen comedy layered on top of a generic zombie movie with just a sprinkling of the scout gimmick tacked on mainly at the end. It results in a movie that feels tired and unoriginal.
Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse colors inside the lines very closely. It hits all of the teen comedy beats you know and love, including: kids who want to ditch an uncool friend so they can appear more attractive, kids who get invited to a party by people much cooler than them, awkward teen who doesn’t know to deal with a crush, oversexed teen who pursues sexual gratification at inappropriate times. They take these well-worn classics and slap on a quick zombie overlay and call it a day. This is a movie that feels like Superbad meets Dawn of the Dead, but instead of being those movies they’re the off-brand knock-offs you would find in the bargain bin at a Wal-Mart. Even at its highest highs, Scouts Guide doesn’t feel like it touches the splendor of the movies it copies.
That’s not to say that there isn’t good comedy in here, because there is, they just do the damndest job hiding it. There’s a joke in this movie involving grabbing on to a zombie while falling out a window that I laughed harder at than anything I’ve seen in months. That joke comes well past the halfway point and I had pretty much given up on the entire film at that point so to get such a huge, genuine, reaction from me at that point was practically a miracle. Where was anything near this funny the rest of the way through? I saw two groups of people walk out of the theater before this sequence; they needed to do a better job keeping people engaged. The whole first act was plagued by jokes that the movie clearly thought were funny falling flat and later there are plenty of funny ideas that don’t get enough space and simply die on the vine (zombie cats being the most egregious example). A zombie singing a duet of a Britney Spears song with the main character got a whole chorus.
This is the kind of movie where I can’t help but wonder if there was some kind of tragic problem in the production process that led to such an uneven effort. Three people share the screenplay and story credits, an arrangement that might hint at some kind of dispute over a rewrite. It’s also a hard R movie that I can’t understand how it would appeal to anyone over the age of 17, so this might be a token theatrical run hoping it has a long tail as a cult classic movie passed back in forth as a contraband DVD at middle school sleepovers for years to come. I want to believe that some conflict or secret conspiracy is behind this failure because it’s a movie that fails to live up to a halfway clever title, and that’s just a failure so sad it defies belief.