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Entries in Bad Milo! [2013] (1)

Tuesday
Oct012013

Bad Milo! (2013)

Sick and Turd

The most exciting thing about Bad Milo! is the exclamation point in its title. Jacob Vaughan's horror/comedy about a workaholic who discovers a demon living inside his colon makes for a great elevator pitch, but a lousy movie-watching experience. It's a shame, too, because the co-writer/director has assembled a hell of a cast, culled mostly from equally quirky but infinitely more enjoyable and intelligent comedies. As with Prisoners, which relied too heavily on actors out-emoting each other, Bad Milo! overflows with ninetieth-take improv and no coherent vision to support it.

Before going on, allow me to share my comedic bona fides with you. Bad Milo! is the kind of movie that many people will love, and those people will likely meet my criticisms with one of two age-old defenses: "Whatever, you just don't get it", or, "Whatever, comedy is subjective." To be clear, I "get" the film; I just don't think it's very good. Also, yes, comedy is subjective. One either laughs at jokes or doesn't, and it's difficult to tell someone that they should not have found something funny.

However, there is an imperfect science to good comedy that sets the stage for memorable laughs instead of just easy ones (this even applies to the basest of base humor). For example, you might tell me I have no right to look down on Bad Milo's jokes because comedy is subjective; to which I might ask what you think of the fan-base that kept According to Jim on the air for eight seasons.

Sorry, back to the bona fides. I'm a big fan of Office Space, The State, and Community, and can appreciate Seinfeld on levels that have nothing to do with the actual show. So, I was happy to see that Vaughan and co-writer Benjamin Hayes would be working on a horror/comedy with performers from some of my favorite TV series and movies.

The problem is the filmmakers' lack of purpose. Is Bad Milo! a gross-out parody of 1980s puppet-monster movies--or a throwback to them with social commentary mixed in for legitimacy? Unfortunately, the answer is both, and neither.

We get the premise within a few minutes: Good-hearted investment-firm accountant Ken (Ken Marino) has trouble coping with all the stresses in his life. His wife, Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) wants to have a kid; his slimy boss, Phil (Patrick Warburton) has just placed him in charge of company layoffs; his mom (Mary Kay Place) is in a kinky relationship with a boundaries-free junior lothario (Kumail Nanjiani); and he hasn't seen his deadbeat dad (Stephen Root) in years. Ken's drama pileup takes its toll on his body, and he's diagnosed with an anal polyp. Eager to turn things around, Ken visits a New Age therapist (Peter Stormare) who hypnotizes him.

By the way, that record scratch you just heard is the sound of Office Space pounding on the door.

Anyway, it turns out the polyp is actually an ancient ass-demon that emerges from Ken's rectum to exact bloody revenge on everyone who causes him anxiety. With its over-sized, puppy-dog eyes and nonsensical baby cooing, Milo (as he's named) is like a hairless, flappy skinned Gizmo with the Hulk's M.O. There's tremendous potential in that idea, believe it or not, but Vaughan and Hayes mine none of it, settling instead for a run-of-the-mill monster movie where the biggest supposed gag involves a sleazy doctor (Steve Zassis) getting his dick eaten off, and the brilliant running joke involves local newscasters blaming crazed racoons for Milo's crimes.

Heaped on top of the mayhem are multiple, clumsily handled issues that play like the writers talking to their therapists instead of to the audience. Corporate scandals, abandonment issues, and family planning all pop up here, but if you remove them from the mix, there are literally no holes to fill. Contrast Warburton's caricature of the soulless boss with Gary Cole's Bill Lumburgh character, and you have the perfect example of why Bad Milo! doesn't work: one is a bitchy attack on corporate America constructed from talking points; the other is a recognizable person whose evil derives from incompetence and subtle degrees of fear.

As for the daddy-issues storyline, it's only a spoiler that Ken's dad also harbors an ass-demon if you've never seen A) Teen Wolf or B) any other movie. The writers blow this narrative opportunity by muddying the waters of Root's character. He couldn't have just left his family behind to protect them from his awful secret; no, he had to also be a selfish prick--which makes the demon seem like karmic punishment that is also passed on to his nice, push-over kid. Again, there's nothing here that couldn't be worked out with some sweaty hours at the keyboard, but Vaughan and Hayes spend all their bullets figuring out "hilarious" ways for Ken to excrete (and re-insert) Milo.*

The movie lost me completely during the scene where Sarah tells Ken she's pregnant. He freaks out on her and runs away to hide in a cheap motel, watching TV for days with his nasty little butt puppet. Later, in a fit of jealous rage, Milo attacks Sarah, knocking her down and scraping at her exposed belly. In ten minutes, the writers drain their protagonist of all sympathy and remove any doubt that they've traded shock value for storytelling.

Throughout the film, Ken is referred to as a "pussy", and at the zero hour we realize it's true. No amount of artificial, pre-credits redemption can change the fact that he walked out on the mother of his child and came back only when her life was in jeopardy. In their desperation, Hayes and Vaughan pussy out the most, stripping all bite from what should have been a fun satire performed by great comic actors. I didn't smile once during Bad Milo!, but I frowned a lot while wishing I was watching other, better movies. I also paused to use the bathroom, which offered two kinds of much-needed relief.

*Also problematic is the idea that the demon is hereditary. Are we to believe that Ken has lived stress-free for over thirty years? Surely, a schoolyard bully or a lousy job interview would have introduced him to his rectal roommate much sooner?

Chicagoans! Feel like ignoring my Crazy Ralph-style warnings? Then head on down to the Music Box Theatre on Southport this Friday and Saturday for midnight screenings of Bad Milo!