Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sundance ’14: Cooties

Those who can’t do, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach at public schools. So then, what are the chances of a misfit Ft. Chicken Elementary summer school faculty surviving a juvenile mutant attack? Not great, but at least there will be plenty of gory humor in Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion’s Cooties, which screened at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

Failed novelist Clint Hadson has moved back to his mother’s house in Fort Chicken and accepted a position teaching English at his old elementary school. To make matters more depressing, his old high school crush and her jealous gym teacher boy friend are also on the Ft. Chicken faculty. Hadson wants to be the cool teacher, who lets his students call him by his first name, but these kids are real hellions—and that is before contaminated chicken nuggets turn them into rampaging zombie death machines.

These little monsters like to bite and they are definitely contagious, but their viral brain rot only affects those who have not yet gone through puberty. In no time at all, the rabid kids have overrun the school. Hadson, his maladjusted colleagues, and a handful uninfected students hole-up, hoping help will come at 3:00, when parents start arriving to pick up their brood.

If you enjoy humor derived from splattered brains and guts then Cooties is in your power zone. Co-writers Ian Brennan and Leigh Whannel keep the shameless gags coming at a regular pace. However, the conspicuous narrative similarities between Cooties and Return to Nuke ‘Em High are distractingly awkward.  Cribbing Troma—get your head around that one.

Elijah Wood’s nebbish everyman shtick works well enough for Hadson and he delivers some amusing lines here and there (partly redeeming his role in the dour travesty of Maniac). Whannel probably gets the biggest laughs as the socially inept sex ed. teacher, but nobody tries harder than Rainn Wilson, unleashing his inner Will Farrell as the past-his-prime P.E. teacher.

Horror movie fans will chuckle at Cooties, but there is nothing here they have not seen before, even if they have not yet revisited Nuke ‘Em High. For epic gross-out humor, it cannot compete with its fellow midnight selection, Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead, but both were picked up for distribution, so they were both winners at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.