Patton Oswalt and Paul Rudd provide voices for two fame-obsessed slackers getting desperate as they near their 30th birthdays in the new satire ‘Nerdland’
Scattered amidst 2016’s family-friendly animated features like Zootopia and Finding Dory are a handful of big-screen cartoons definitely not for kids. Seth Rogen has the ribald, R-rated Sausage Party cooking at Sony, for example, while the upcoming Warner Bros. animated film The Killing Joke (an adaptation of Alan Moore’s controversial 1988 Batman v. Joker graphic novel) has become the first DC Universe Animated Original Movie to receive the scarlet “R” rating.
Add the Tribeca Film Festival-premiering cartoon Nerdland to that list. Don’t let the innocent title fool you: this slacker comedy, which takes its inspiration from both Clerks and Heavy Traffic–the 1973 film from Ralph Bakshi, who pioneered the idea of “animation for adults” with films like the X-rated Fritz the Cat–is filled with gratuitous nudity, moments of gory violence, and vocabulary that will leave your household “Swear Jar” filled to the brim.
‘Nerdland’: Watch the trailer:
While Nerdland is definitely a big-kids-only affair, a pronounced juvenile streak helps if you’re to be receptive to its Adult Swim-ready brand of crazy humor. Nerdland is the first big-screen feature from Titmouse Animation Studio, the company behind some of that cable network’s biggest hits, including Metalocalypse, The Venture Brothers, and Black Dynamite. Like those shows, the film employs a striking animation style in service of gags that range from the sublimely sophomoric to the painfully putrid. Titmouse’s reputation within the contemporary comedy community has allowed them to assemble an impressive voiceover cast for Nerdland that includes Paul Rudd, Patton Oswalt, Paul Scheer, Mike Judge, and Molly Shannon. And those voices go a long way toward elevating a script by Andrew Kevin Walker–yes, the same Andrew Kevin Walker who wrote Seven–that seems less-than-animated on the page.
Funnily enough, Nerdland and Seven are kindred spirits in at least one respect. That hugely influential 1995 crime drama, which elevated David Fincher to Hollywood’s A-list, is based around the idea that the possibility for corruption exists inside all of us when a particular temptation is placed in our way. For the ambition-rich, but effort-poor main characters in Nerdland, John (Rudd) and Elliott (Oswalt), that temptation is a quick route to the celebrity they both desperately crave. That quest frequently lures them down dark behavioral alleyways, up to and including the notion of embarking on a media-friendly killing spree. It goes without saying that these two bozos aren’t professional killers on the level of Kevin Spacey’s John Doe. But the mere fact that they entertain the idea is intended to make a point about where the public worship of celebrity culture has led us.
Sadly, the movie’s socially conscious satiric jab is far from a knockout punch. Stretched out to 83 minutes (significantly longer than the 10-20 minute cartoons Titmouse generally produces), Nerdland’s pace occasionally threatens to outslack its slacker heroes. It’s also–not to put too fine a point on it–a very Boys’ Own movie, filled with references to toys and other geeky entertainments (most of which are fictional spoofs of real nerd-friendly brands), and female characters whose exaggerated bust size would make Power Girl blush. One could argue that director Chris Prynoski is spoofing the nerd-man ideal of what women should look like, an image derived from statuesque superheroines and Princess Leia’s metal bikini. With geek culture in the slow, but steady process of evolving beyond male-dominated fandom, though, Nerdland’s sensibility and sense of humor feels stuck in the ‘90s.
More animation for adults: Watch the ‘Sausage Party’ red-band trailer: