While Cooties delivers well-placed laughs and good gore, it lacks bite
“Circle, circle, dot, dot. Now you have a cooties shot.”
by TS Alan
When contaminated chicken nuggets turn elementary school children into depraved flesh-eating zombies (the infected, not the reanimated undead), a group of dysfunctional summer school teachers must band together to escape the mayhem and carnage.
Elijah Wood heads this well-balanced ensemble cast as Clint Hadson, a wanna-be novelist who recently moved back to his hometown of Fort Chicken after failing to make it in New York. Clint takes a summer job as a substitute teacher, and it is not long before he reconnects with Lucy McCormick (Alison Pill), a former classmate who he stills harbors a schoolboy crush for. Throw in Lucy’s boyfriend Wade Johnson (Rainn Wilson), the school’s past-his-prime jock turned gym teacher and alpha male of the faculty — who can’t pronounce “dual rear wheels” when trying to explain to Clint why his truck is so big — and jealousy arises. However, despite the ensuing love triangle, the character tension never gets fully fleshed out. It does, however, manage to supply just enough Wade macho anger towards Clint to keep the two at odds. Wade even cracks a Hobbit remark at Clint.
Rounding out the rest of the oddball faculty is Doug, (Leigh Whannel); a sexually ambiguous sex-ed instructor, Tracy (Jack McBayer); an overtly gay art teacher, Rebekkah Halverson (Nasim Pedrad); a right-wing creationist, Rick (Jorge Garcia); the pot-smoking security guard, and Mr. Hitachi, the school’s janitor. All but Whannel have very few jokes to offer, and not much story involvement. Though Garcia’s Hawaii Five-O remark gets a chuckle.
There are no surprises when it comes to the shenanigans of survival, as the inept faculty members attempt to fight their way of the school which has been overrun by an outbreak of “cooties”, which has changed their per-pubescent charges into a flesh hungry horde. Although the site of crazed, infected ankle-biters being beaten and murdered is unabashed, the action never gets too gruesome. And though there are a lot of hit-or-miss one-liners, the film still comes off with enough funny to make it entertaining.
Despite it’s positives, there are a few negatives. Characters are very broadly drawn and you seem to want to root for the cooties kids more than any faculty member. There’s also too many lame gay jokes and Mr. Hitachi is given a racist stereotype, samurai sword and proverbs included.
The true stars of Cooties are the infected children. They get to jump rope with intestines, play marbles with eyeballs, and use a severed head as a tether ball. And of course they get to rip apart their teachers, all the while grinning and growling in several delightfully gory scenes.
The aforementioned negatives are balanced out by the positives, which makes this an irreverent, off-color zom-com that isn’t afraid to bash a few children’s skulls. Though it’s never quite scary, it is frequently funny and gory, and worth a watch.
Directed by Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion
Written by Leigh Whannell & Ian Brennan
Cast: Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, Jack McBrayer, Leigh Whannell, Nasim Pedrad, Ian Brennan, Jorge Garcia
Run Time: 96 minutes
Release Date: Limited theatrical release and streaming in HD on September 15. DVD release coming in December.