The Package is the movie some older comedians have warned us about. It's a nearly joke-free 'gross-out' comedy that goes out of its way not to offend anybody. In the process, it becomes a bland little diversion that is barely saved by its very likable cast.
The Package wants to be a shocking romp, but tries way to hard to avoid any sort of SJW backlash in the process. That conceit doesn't mesh, and we're left with something that feels slightly off. Like the record player was bumped and everything is warbling out of sync.
It's impossible to reach the lofty heights of There's Something About Mary in this culture and decade. The Package wants to be progressive yet feels limited by what it can't say. Perhaps younger audiences who are new to the moviegoing experience will embrace it. Those who weren't around for the 80's teen heyday kicked off by John Hughes' Sixteen Candles or the 2000s resurgence ignited by American Pie.
This generation doesn't really have a teen classic to call their own. And The Package definitely isn't it. At least not after its intended general audience catches a glimpse at what came before it. Sure, you have your Lady Bird and your Edge of Seventeen and even the more recent Eighth Grade. But those wouldn't be shelved under comedy at the The Last blockbuster. Most of today's teen movies fill their pockets with the realism and fishing weight of pure drama, only adding a few comedic blemishes.
This is why a lot of younger movie fans gravitate to the oeuvre of the 80s. There is an element of danger lurking on the surface of classics like Fast Times and Ferris Bueller that is sorely absent from a majority of the comedies being released today, which are far and few between. That darkness always makes for true laughter in its purest form. It just can't be had here. Because, quite frankly, social media won't allow it. If you make even the slightest wrong joke, someone, somewhere, is going to take offense and scream loudly. And this movie just can't have that.
That's not true of all comedies being made today. I was personally very excited to watch The Package after seeing Game Over, Man. Both movies come from Mail Order Comedy. Game Over is an electrified riff on Die Hard that rushes at you like a linebacker in a bar fight, swinging hard. It takes no prisoners because it's not worried about hurting said prisoners' feelings. It was the first movie from the guys behind Workaholics, and it's easily one of the top ten movies of 2018. It's the kind of ethereal experience that has you constantly checking your watch as it nears its conclusion. Not because you want it to end, but because your worried it will be over too soon and you'll have to return to the real world. It's one of the few truly transformative movie experiences of the year. Sure, there are some good releases in 2018, but this is a particular comedy classic in its own right.
So perhaps there was a little too much expectation on my part for The Package to be another home run. The Mail Order Comedy troupe is only producing here, and only Blake Anderson appears on screen. It's set within the Workaholics groove, but it has a distinctly different voice and flavor coming from director Jake Szymanski and writers Kevin Burrows and Matt Mider.
The foundation is built on a fairly lofty premise. One that would have served as the C story in a better teen comedy. A group of mostly friends, three weeny dudes and two empowered young women, go on a one day camping trip, drink rum, guzzle beer, and one of them chops their penis off.
How does one do such a thing? By trying to slice his piss stream. Which is something this particular set of teen boys would totally do after chugging two suitcases of beer. In the process of playing with his new butterfly knife, the unfortunate soul is surprised by his friends in the dark, and said deed is done.
The movie owes a lot to Weekend at Bernie's, though it's a severed penis instead of a corpse that is propped up and run through the dairy hose. From rolls in the dirt to getting roasted like a camp fire weenie to soda showers and games of hot potato, this poor kid's ding dong is literally put through the ringer. This penis goes through more in one day than its owner will in a lifetime.
But there's no real jokes here. It's more of a cringe compilation. And if you walked up behind The Package and gave it a slight push, it would fall into a different genre completely, one it might wear a little more comfortably. I could see The Package working better as a dark drama with slightly comedic overtones. But now, it wants to be a 90s style gross-out comedy.
Sure, a severed penis movie in the 80s would have been rife with homophobia and gay jokes. The Package has to be commended for avoiding that completely. Even when it comes time for one of the friends to suck rattlesnake poison out of the severed schlong. What should be one of the film's better comedic set pieces just becomes a mouthpiece for gender politics and goes the vanilla route, afraid to offend just about anyone who's engaged in oral sex, gay, straight or otherwise.
What should be a hilarious 90 minute summer ride becomes a slightly tiresome exercise in how you can make a comedy without many laughs and still almost get away with it. The movie only works on any level because of its very likable young cast.
Geraldine Viswanathan was the breakout in this year's earlier teen comedy Blockers, which actually had a few laughs playing it a little less safe than what we see in The Package. Here, she does a bit too much exaggerated face acting, but she's still a warm and illuminating presence that welcomes you in and grabs your attention. Playing her on-screen brother and victim of the film's self inflicted knife wound is Eduardo Franco, who also appears to be working towards bigger and better things. He's just instantly agreeable on all levels
I guess you could call Daniel Doheny the lead. I didn't realize there was a Jay Baruchel type, but here we are. The kid channels the Canadian comedian with such vivacious energy it's possible that Baruchel will never work again. Newcomer Sadie Calvano, who has had a recurring role on the CBS sitcom Mom, is the real find. She gets a few stand out moments, like leaping off a cliff to catch a drone and constantly abusing her emasculated former high school fling with beer cans to the face. She's the high school track star you were always a little afraid to approach because she seemed more eccentric and dangerous than most.
It's too bad she's saddled with an unbelievable, behind the bleachers romance, which is just in place to appease those who need something to shrug at in indifference. Luke Spencer Roberts is channeling his inner Blake Anderson here, and I personally find it a little hard to believe that these two would be any kind of item. And that she pines for him? That's straight up 80s male-dominated bullsh*t in a movie trying so hard to avoid those comparisons. So guess what, The Package. You failed in your quest not to offend, because the on-screen relationship between Roberts and Calvano rubbed me the wrong way.
That said, the cast has a good chemistry and if it weren't for them this whole endeavor would be met with a room temperature fart noise. The Package is watchable all the way through. But it does way too little to inspire much more than a barely audible grin. This is what we get when we're not allowed to color outside the lines anymore for fear of making someone angry.