If “Goosebumps” is this year’s kid-friendly scare fest, zom-sex-com “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” will try to eat the brains of every teenage boy on Halloween night. Which is ideal, because you’d have to have the brain of a teenage boy to appreciate this tired take on the zombie genre. Filled with haphazardly executed and shopworn horror and teen movie tropes, “Scouts Guide” is passable for a zombie movie — if you’ve never seen a zombie movie before.
While most zombie texts take up existential questions about what it means to be alive, or the nature of mindless consumption, “Scouts Guide” is actually a masculinity fable wrapped in flesh-chomping disguise. Our titular Boy Scouts — Ben (Tye Sheridan), Carter (Logan Miller) and Augie (Joey Morgan) — are outgrowing their troop. With a rampant zombie virus taking over their town, it’s the perfect opportunity to put their skills to use, destroy symbols of their boyhood, and reaffirm their evolving friendship. They’re also going to try and see some boobs.
The majority of the plot sees the Scouts fighting their way through zombie flesh to rescue all the cool kids and hot girls at a secret rager. Along the way, they’re saved by a hot-but-tough strip club cocktail waitress, Denise (Sarah Dumont), who knows how to handle a pump action shotgun and exhorts the boys to “Man up!” She also gives kissing lessons. Denise certifiably kicks butt (in a tight tank and Daisy dukes, of course), but Dumont has a curious acting style in which she barely moves her face.
The film is clearly going for “Superbad” meets “Zombieland” vibes, but remember that those films were exciting and novel six to eight years ago. All of the tropes that get checked off the list in “Scouts Guide” have been seen many times before, or are given some dumb or offensive twist. There isn’t a jump scare or punchline that lands with aplomb. The film, directed by Christopher Landon, has a dishwater dingy look, which doesn’t quite match its dirty mouth jokester tone. The editing is chaotic and action scenes are confusing.
The real question is what on earth Tye Sheridan is doing in this movie. The preternaturally talented young actor made his debut in Terence Malick’s “Tree of Life,” turned in a masterful performance in Jeff Nichols’ “Mud” and was excellent in the Sundance sensation “Stanford Prison Experiment.” He remains a captivating onscreen presence but the adolescent material is so beneath him. In happier news, Joey Morgan, who plays the Scouting geek, is great, the standout in a sea of cookie-cutter characters.
At the end of the film you realize it’s simply just a pubescent male fantasy. All the female characters are simply sex objects, even the scary older cat lady (Cloris Leachman, you are too good for this). The nerds save the day, get the girl, etc. The really scary thing about the movie though, is considering how it just might eat the brains of impressionable youths, leaving behind a sticky residue reeking of casual sexism and scatological humor.