If you wanted to pick the most generic title possible for your film, then “Welcome To The Jungle” could be it – 5 other films and 22 TV episodes of various shows share the name. But none of them have Jean-Claude Van Damme returning to comedy, which makes this the best one.
It seems Chris (Adam Brody) has never seen any films or watched any TV, because he allows his immediate superior Phil (Rob Huebel) to steal his idea for some product packaging and win a big contract with it. Don’t be so dumb, Chris! Anyway, the packaging-design company they work for is full of weird and wonderful types – sleazy scumbag Phil; Jared (Eric Edelstein), Chris’s slobby friend; Brenda (Kristen Schaal), slightly typecast by now as the kooky one; Phil’s pathetic assistant Troy (Aaron Takahashi); and the beautiful but friendly Lisa (Megan Boone). Now, those of you who watch “The Blacklist” on TV might be expecting Ms. Boone to be a bit wooden, but she’s great here – perhaps the wig she’s forced to wear on that show for reasons unknown is putting her off her game.
Boss Dennis Haysbert decides, because businesses in films do stuff like this, to send them on a 2-day retreat to a deserted jungle-covered island, with tour guide / former army guy Storm (JCVD) and that’s where the magic happens. The pilot of the plane dies almost immediately, the radio doesn’t work, Storm gets savaged by a tiger and disappears, and the poisoned meat / hallucinogenic tea that everyone but Chris, Jared, Brenda and Lisa eat and drink turns them from mild-mannered office drones into a Lord Of The Flies sort of group, only one that has orgies. Can our four heroes save the day? How fortunate is it that Chris used to be a scout and Jared was a radio ham?
The problem with this film isn’t the cast. Huebel and Schaal are both talented comedians so they lift all their scenes, Adam Brody is good too as the sad office guy who needs to discover his backbone, save the day and win the girl, Boone is fine, and JCVD mocks his own film persona very cleverly, and can absolutely do comedy.
The problem is most definitely the script and direction. I like the way that Phil’s group turn into savages so quickly (they build a huge statue of him on a hilltop within a day of them landing there) but they go that far then sort of stop, and if anything turn the craziness down a little. There’s a weirdly scatological bent running through the film, too – Schaal has a monologue about how much she wants to take a shit, a corpse gets accidentally urinated on, and so on. Swearing is used in place of jokes once too often (and I like swearing just fine).
I picture Huebel, Schaal and Brody getting together every night after filming and wishing they could rewrite the script, because they’re ill-served by it all. It could do with being a lot weirder or a lot less weird, I think (I had an idea about how the main cast members crash-land on an island, and the rest of the cast is another office team, that got stranded there a year ago and have turned native, which would solve some of the problems…but no-one likes an armchair quarterback, sorry).
It’s almost great. There are plenty of laughs in it, a decent cast and an interesting, if fairly predictable, premise. JCVD is underused, but when he’s there he’s brilliant. If he ever gets bored of kicking ass in low-budget films made in Eastern Europe, I predict a decent sitcom role for him…I just wish the film overall was that little bit better. If your heart is set on a film about office workers trapped in a wilderness environment, then “Severance” is the film for you.
Rating: thumbs in the middle