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Film Review: ‘Nerdland’

Patton Oswalt and Paul Rudd lend their voices to this crass animated satire of Hollywood ambition.

'Nerdland' Review: An Orgy of Animated
Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

The hunger for Hollywood fame gets profanely skewered by “Nerdland,” an orgy of animated R-rated raunch from Titmouse, Inc. (creators of TV’s “Motorcity,” “Metalocalypse” and “Superjail!”) and its head honcho, Chris Prynoski. With a scuzzy style to match its sleazeball vision of spotlight desperation and depravity, this Tinseltown satire — led by voice work from Paul Rudd and Patton Oswalt — revels in the foulness of 21st-century pop culture, albeit to a degree that’s ultimately both exhausting and redundant. Its extremeness should satisfy fans of the studio’s wild, rapid-fire comedy style, but broader theatrical prospects seem dim.

From garbage-strewn apartments to billboards covered in bird crap and overpasses populated by puking weirdos, “Nerdland” imagines L.A. as a festering sore overrun by star-seeking cretins. Two such vermin are roommates Elliot (Oswalt) and John (Rudd), the former a string-beany aspiring screenwriter who’s working on a vengeful Rip Van Winkle reboot (when not screwing a blow-up doll), and the latter a stocky struggling actor-journalist who’s introduced interviewing movie star Brett Anderson (Reid Scott) for his latest blockbuster, “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Murder” — a chat that ends with John splitting his pants, thereby giving the attendant crowd (and us) a close-up view of his puckered anus.

Such is the tone of “Nerdland,” which charts this duo’s unhinged efforts to make it big. Their quest begins with attempts to create a viral-video sensation — first by giving a homeless man a charitable check, then by dressing as hippies in order to get assaulted by police officers — and soon leads to far more out-there plots aimed at courting murder-spree notoriety.

The joke, as it were, is that celebrity is so worthwhile, it should be sought by any means necessary. That sentiment is shared by not only these pitiful protagonists, but also by everyone in this miserable milieu, including Sally (Kate Micucci) and Linda (Riki Lindhome), the buxom bimbos who work at a mall clothing store and serve as the objects of Elliot and John’s pornographic affections.

Penned by Andrew Kevin Walker, whose “Seven” is slyly alluded to via John’s feverish fantasy of being a serial killer turning himself in to the cops (and, of course, the awaiting news cameras), Prynoski’s film launches one-liners and cut-away gags with such attention-deficit gusto that, at least initially, its energy compensates for its familiar portrait of wannabe losers and their superficial surroundings.

Particularly amusing is a throwaway moment in which Elliot and John find the mall jam-packed with shoppers in the middle of a weekday, causing John to wonder, “Thought the economy was supposed to be in the toilet” — a sharp jab at both Hollywood’s legion of unemployed entertainment industry inhabitants, as well as the power of consumerism even amidst financial down-times.

Strip-club nudity, ultra-violence and bodily fluids regularly factor into the proceedings, as does an amusing Iggy Azalea-parodying pop hit that plays on the soundtrack. And director Prynoski’s animation — full of sharp lines, alternately gaudy and ruddy colors, and swift movements — ably matches the action’s down-and-dirty attitude. On the vocal front, Oswalt and Rudd prove a well-matched pair, with their whiny, sarcastic rapport marked by an underlying, pitiful need to be something they’re not: interesting.

Unfortunately, that’s both the point of “Nerdland,” as well as its eventual undoing. Once Elliot and John become coveted eyewitnesses to a Frankenstein-ian criminal’s latest robbery, they seem to achieve at last the attention they crave. However, their ever-crazier stabs at getting (and staying) noticed soon begin to feel downright one-note. Worse, their story comes to hinge on ironic twists — specifically, that the very celebrity they seek might force them to renounce the spotlight — that further leave it feeling like a leaden lampoon of things that are, on the face of them, already so crass and cringe-worthy as to need no further ridiculing.

Fame may be something for which people are willing to exploit themselves (or kill), yet by so vulgarly mocking people’s lust for the limelight, the film treads too closely to embracing the very ugliness (epitomized by the climactic reveal of the new-and-improved Hollywood sign) it loathes.

Film Review: ‘Nerdland’

Reviewed online, Stamford, Conn., April 13, 2016. (In Tribeca Film Festival — Viewpoints.) Running time: <strong>83 MIN.</strong>

  • Production: A Titmouse Inc., Pariah, AKW Worldwide presentation. (International sales: United Talent Agency, Beverley Hills.) Produced by Gavin Polone. Executive producers, Chris Prynoski, Shannon Barrett Prynoski, Kat Landsberg. Co-producers, Ben Kalina.
  • Crew: Directed by Chris Prynoski. Screenplay, Andrew Kevin Walker. Camera (color, widescreen, HD); production designer, Antonio Canobbio; editors, Mark Brooks, Barry J. Kelly; music, Night Club; music supervisor, (Pesci) Jeff Gray; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital), Margarita Mix Hollywood; supervising sound editor, Hunter Curra; re-recording mixers, Konrad Pinon; animation supervisor, Antonio Canobbio; storyboard supervisor, Joseph Bennett.
  • With: Paul Rudd, Patton Oswalt, Hannibal Buress, Riki Lindhome, Kate Micucci, Mike Judge, Reid Scott.