★★ 1 out of ★★★★★
Directed by Jonathon Milott and Cary Murnion
The zombie-pocalypse begins in an elementary school playground, and the kids turn on the teachers. Bloody (occasionally) and goofy (sometimes) mayhem (almost) ensues. Shrugs all around.
Clint (Elijah Wood) returns back to his small town roots to take up a teaching job at his old grade school. He’s a failed novelist, who is now coming back to his home town where a number of his old classmates have taken up teaching jobs at their old school, including his old flame, Lucy (Alison Pill from The Newsroom) and the old jock/bully Wade (Rainn Wilson) who is still living his glory days as a gym teacher. Then, a tainted chicken nugget lunch turns the entire school into savage little killers, and naturally, the contagion is dubbed “Cooties.” The teachers manage to discover that the illness affects only kids who have not yet hit puberty yet, in a bit of what could only be described as fourth-grade scientific analysis, and soon most of the student population is infected. The surviving teachers rally and make a break from the school to get help, but the infection appears to be spreading across the country. The teachers determine to find a vaccine before the epidemic gets further out of hand, and before those pesky kids catch them.
Conceptually, this had a lot of potential. I dug the trailer, and was looking forward to seeing this. The cast has a great comedy pedigree, stocked with veteran TV comedic talents like Wilson, Nasim Pedrad (Saturday Night Live), Jack McBrayer (30 Rock), and Jorge Garcia (Lost). It feels like it wanted to be a mashup of Return of the Living Dead and 28 Days Later. It has the wacky over-the-top sensibility of the former, and the fast-toxin-almost-zombie structure of the latter. Unfortunately, it is not as funny as Return of the Living Dead, nor does it have the intensity and dread of 28 Days Later. The movie made me smile, but it never made me laugh out loud. The gore was a bit perfunctory, and frankly, the kids weren’t very scary. Granted, I know this is a horror comedy, but the best horror comedies still bring the scary.
W.C. Fields famously stated “Never work with children or animals” in regards to making movies, because you never know what you’re going to get. I think the movie bogs down by having kids who are unexceptional actors. That’s not to say you can’t try a zombie movie with kids, as The Girl With All the Gifts was a triumph, largely because the young actress, Sannia Nanua was so convincing in her role. It’s that for the most part, the kids overact a little This movie doesn’t help itself by not having any kids that you connect to when they turn, and with the exception with the chaos from the playground, there’s nothing uniquely kid-like or amusing about their antics. I also got a kick out of one of the stills from the movie that shows Wade being pursued by a bunch of kid zombies who totally broke character and have big grins on their faces like they are having the time of their lives on set. Great kids! Nice to see you’re having fun on set. But… remember… You’re supposed to be zombies!
The adult cast gets painted as caricatures. The teachers all have big, broad personalities. The comedy is similarly broad and plays on stereotypes and exaggerated personalities for the laughs, rather than organically coming out of the situation. So, the dialogue for the most part seems to be a bit ham-fisted. It feels a bit like a network sit-com turned into an R-Rated campy show. There are a few too many over-baked tropes that come into play. The gearing up sequence, (explicitly called out as a movie trope), the chase through the ducts maneuver, and a closing scene in a fun-house felt cliched. I would have much rather had the teachers try and outwit the kids. But, I guess that’s a different movie.
There is enough charisma on the screen, despite the broad wash characters, to make the film watchable. If you have some free time on a Sunday, this would be decent, light, not-very-scary horror comedy fare for you to watch while folding laundry. I’m going to give the flip side of this story a watch… Nicholas Cage in “Mom and Dad”. Now THAT might get scary!
Cooties is Rated R, and is available for rent on Amazon, YouTube, and Vudu.