There’s something gleeful about a profane cartoon. Adult oriented animation has had a place on television for a while now, with popular programming blocks like Adult Swim, but animated films have stayed almost exclusively focused at children. However, things seem to be swinging in a more mature (well maybe but not mature, but adult) direction. Seth Rogen’s animated film Sausage Party about anthropomorphic food comes out later this year, and this spring, Nerdland is premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Nerdland is a familiar story about the American hunger for fame, but while its story is old hat, its lunatic animated style isn’t something you see at the theatre every day. The film follows the uninspired screenwriter Elliot (Patton Oswalt, Ratatouille) and wannabe actor John (Paul Rudd, Ant-Man), two Hollywood nobodies who decide that come hell or high water, by the end of the night, they’re going to be famous. Their mission sends them on a madcap quest across Los Angeles that calls out America’s obsession with fame and ignorance with its consequences.
There’s nothing particularly original about Nerdland’s script, written by Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en), which lays on the satire thick, really, really thick. The film feels, at times, directionless mess, hitting on spurts of hilarity as they move from one scheme to another. The film’s highlight is probably their decision to go on a murder spree, and attempt to prep themselves by watching ultra-violent movie scenes. It’s a fun moment of pitchblack humor that also gives director Chris Prynoski (Metalocalypse) and his team of animators a reason to indulge in some insane animation.
Prynoski has gathered a solid cast for the film including Hannibal Buress, Mike Judge, Kate Micucci, and Paul Scheer, but for all its comedic pedigree, Nerdland is largely unfunny, focusing on social commentary instead of laughs. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its moments; Elliot’s screenplay for a 21st century Rumpelstiltskin is particularly inspired, but in a movie that is, on one level, wall to wall visual gags, it’s a crime that so few of them land their punches.
Verdict: 2 out of 5
Nerdland has very little to say that hasn’t been said before in smarter, wittier films. The animation is eye catching and the voice talent does admirable work, but neither is worth the price of admission alone. Nerdland could have been one of the most hilarious and incendiary films at Tribeca this year, but by treading through such tired territory, it ends up being the last thing it wants: pedestrian.