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A brief review of "Little Evil" (2017)

Little Evil has a winning premise.  It's a comedy about a guy who discovers his new stepson is the Antichrist. It's the kind of simple, seemingly obvious spin on well-trod horror ground that makes for great comedy - the sort of thing you hear and you think, "Well, come on, somebody has to have done that already," except nobody really has.

And there's a good cast and crew to support it.  The director, Eli Craig, proved his mettle with Tucker and Dale vs Evil.  The lead is Adam Scott, who has never been bad, and the supporting cast includes a healthy supply of comics and funny bit players who are always good even if the productions they're in aren't: Tyler Labine, Carla Gallo, Donald Faison, Kyle Bornheimer, and Bridget Everett.

The only thing it's missing is jokes.

Little Evil is one of those comedies that unfortunately thinks its inherently outrageous content renders all other humor obsolete.  Scene after scene falls flat because there isn't any setup and pay off - just people screaming and/or pointing out the antics that are already obvious.

The overall product has the insecure vibe of somebody who's not sure about their comic chops, so they overplay everything.  You can see that a lot with Bridget Everett's character, the resident offbeat / uproarious goofball who constantly plays against social norms (translation: she says "shit" a lot and humps a cubicle wall).  But it's not just character quirks - it's everything.

Here's a good example.  Tyler Labine has a brief bit as a videographer who recorded Adam Scott's wedding and wants to show him some demonic footage of his stepson.  When Scott shows up in Labine's office and starts watching the footage, the first thing he comments on is how shaky the footage looks.  This prompts Labine to start spouting about Scorsese and Fellini while he explains that he's an artiste, which Scott drily deflects while being completely underwhelmed by the recording.

The jokes themselves aren't bad.  A videographer who takes himself too seriously?  That could work.  Scott being unimpressed by the carnage of the video and instead bitching about the shot composition?  That's funny.  But what kills it is that these jokes aren't allowed to stand on their own.  Labine has to belabor the point with a whole spiel about his film school education while Scott outright ignores the end of the world.  They're each stepping all over the other's foot in a big, dumb race to be the Gold Star Funny Actor that they stop caring about making the scene work.  And I don't blame the actors - I think they were probably just doing what they were told to do.  I imagine they were told, "Cut!  I said 'bigger'!" about a dozen times.

To contrast that, here's an example of one of the jokes that actually lands.  There's a part later where Scott's character is lying in bed and talking to his new wife, played by Evangeline Lilly, and she casually mentions the "odd circumstances" around her son's birth.  She brings it up casually - "Oh, you remember how I was with that cult in my mid-twenties."  And Scott says, "Uh, no, you never said that."  And then, very mildly, very matter-of-factly, Lilly lays out some graphic detail about being seduced in a Satanic ritual while dismissing it as some silly froo-froo New Age sex thing she did in her reckless youth.  The joke works because she undersells it and Scott reacts with both skepticism and revulsion - the way a normal person would.  There's no sense of bullshit "top that!" rivalry.

The kind of overcooked comedy that runs throughout Little Evil saps it of any edge its premise may suggest.  Ironically, a movie about a guy contemplating the murder of his stepson ends up being one of the most inoffensive, paint-by-numbers comedies I've seen all year.  That's the thing about having everybody play too broadly - when there's this much noise, you can't hear the punchlines.

My Rating: 2.5 / 5