Ana Gasteyer, Anna Kendrick, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Bjorn Yearwood, black comedies, Calum Worthy, Chris Matheson, cinema, comedies, Craig Robinson, Earl Gundy, end of the world, fantasy, film reviews, films, giant lasers, God vs the Devil, Jesse Camacho, John Francis Daley, Ken Jeong, Lil' Beast, Movies, Paul Middleditch, Paul Scheer, plague of locusts, Rapture-Palooza, Rob Corddry, Robert C. New, the Antichrist, the Beast, The Greatest American Hero, the Rapture, Thomas Lennon, Tyler Labine, voice-over narration, wraiths
If you think about it, nothing happens without some kind of bureaucracy. What to change your name? Fill out a form in triplicate. Shoot an armed robber during a bank heist? Make sure your commander gets the paperwork by the end of the day. Need a loan? Sign here, here and initial here. Hell, even selling your soul requires a contract: you can be damn sure the Devil had his lawyers look at it, so you probably should, too. After all, who could possibly be more well-qualified to be the “patron saint” of paperwork and bureaucracy than ol’ Scratch, himself? Paul Middleditch’s newest film, Rapture-Palooza (2013), takes this idea one step further, positing a post-Rapture world where the plague of locusts may be a bummer but it’s the middle managers that really get ya down.
Lindsey (Anna Kendrick) and Ben (John Francis Daley) are a couple of kids who happen to be in love. They also happen to have been left behind by the Rapture, an event which we first see during an intense bowling game (natch). Lindsey and Ben may have been damned to spend the remainder of their lives in a fiery wasteland populated by dope-smoking wraith security guards (Tyler Labine and Paul Scheer), haranguing human-faced locusts (Suffer! Suffer!) and raining blood (more of an irritation than a horror, since the damn blood gets everywhere and windshield wipers just smear that shit around) but they’ve got each other and that’s good enough for them. Complications arise, however when the Antichrist, one Earl Gundy (Craig Robinson) takes a lascivious interest in the virginal Lindsey. Since this is, after all, his world now, Gundy swipes Lindsey, determined to break through her demure protests and make her his infernal queen. Ben, for his part, just wishes his Gundy-employed dad, Mr. House (Rob Corddry), would quit trying to set up Lindsey with the Devil, in order to curry favor.
Eventually, all hell breaks loose (even more than usual, let’s say) and Ben takes on the Antichrist’s minions, with the help of Lindsey’s drug-dealing brother, Clark Lewis (yes, his name really is Clark Lewis) and his best buddy, Fry (Jesse Camacho). The Devil won’t go down without a fight and a quip (or three), however, and things get even messier when Jesus (Mark Wynn) and God (Ken Jeong) show up. Spoiler alert: God’s just as big a dick as the Devil, at least when you’re one of the “little” people. Through it all, however, Lindsey and Ben never lose sight of one thing: if you’ve got true love, you don’t need eternal salvation…just a little sandwich cart and a piece of Apocalypse to call your own.
Similar to the way in which 1997 featured the dueling volcano films Volcano and Dante’s Peak (which, I think, were basically the same film), 2013 featured dueling post-Rapture films: James Franco’s in-joke This is the End and Rapture-Palooza. While I genuinely enjoyed This is the End (which, ironically, also featured Robinson), there was a lot of the film that was too meta and self-concerned to be much use for the average viewer (read: anyone who wasn’t actually in the movie). I found myself smiling quite a bit and appreciated how smart the whole thing was (and it really was a smart film, despite my natural desire to slam Franco for simply existing) but I didn’t find it uproariously funny, bar a few moments (Michael Cera, for the win). Rapture-Palooza, on the other hand, is extremely funny, packed with so many righteously hilarious bits that picking favorites was a little hard.
I absolutely adored the locusts and wraiths (I’ll watch Tyler Labine do anything, including reading a grocery list) but there were dozens of other bits that caught my eye/tickled my funny-bone: Gundy’s son, Lil’ Beast; the surface-to-air anti-Jesus laser; Jeong’s wonderful slant on God as an irritable jerk; that damn sandwich cart; Ana Gasteyer getting sent back to Earth, post-Rapture, for being “too annoying”…these and many more provided a near constant source of amusement throughout the film. My rules for comedy are generally pretty open: just make me laugh and I’m a happy guy. Rapture-Palooza made me laugh more often than not, so that’s a big check mark in the “Positive” category.
The biggest check mark in the “Negative” category? That would have to be Robinson’s endless and increasingly obnoxious sexual innuendos and come-ons. The whole plot of the film is precipitated on the Antichrist desiring Lindsey: we get that. When every third thing out of Robinson’s mouth is another tired variation on “hide the salami,” however, things get old awfully quick. Even more iffy is the notion that 99% of his “jokes” and innuendo involve raping Lindsey, something which never makes for good humor. Since Lindsey has made her feelings plainly clear and repeatedly (and clearly) said “no” in any given situation, it’s hard not to see the Devil’s continued attempts as anything short of an attempt to take her by force. At one point, the Antichrist even makes it plainly clear, telling Lindsey that she’s going to “get it,” whether she wants it or not. While I get what the filmmakers were going for and fully acknowledge that Robinson is known for a bit o’ the dirty talk, I always found this aspect of the film to be in bad taste. Truthfully, without the excessively “rapey” jokes, I would have found Rapture-Palooza to be a nearly perfect film, at least for my sensibilities.
This reliance on aggressively bad taste is a shame, really, because the 1% of Robinson’s dialogue that isn’t given over to imaginative euphemisms for intercourse is pretty spectacular. Robinson is an incredibly gifted comedian, a performer who has a way with a withering line (and glance) that’s almost peerless: his work on The Office is a master-class in the “friendly asshole.” When Gundy isn’t obsessed with Lindsey’s lady parts, he’s spot-on fantastic, no more so than his interactions with his son, Lil’ Beast (Bjorn Yearwood). The Antichrist shows such disdain for his son that it becomes a running joke and a marvelously cruel one, at that. Perhaps it speaks more to my sense of humor but Robinson’s delivery of the line, “Don’t be a dud, little fucker,” made me laugh so hard that I cried. Really. I just wish there were more moments like that in Robinson’s performance and fewer bits that made me cringe.
The rest of the cast ranges from good to pretty great, with only Gasteyer’s shrill, over-the-top performance as being a bit of a wet blanket. Corddry is fantastic as Ben’s practical, if spectacularly untrustworthy father and Calum Worthy brings just the right touch of “douchbaggery” to his portrayal of Lindsey’s brother. I wish Labine and Scheer (so wonderful as the idiotic Andre on The League) had bigger roles, since either one of them could have carried a lead or supporting performance on their own. What’s here is excellent, however, and I’ll never get tired of Scheer’s pot-smoking wraith, especially when he’s berating Corddry: the whole ensemble has great chemistry together.
While there are plenty of big names/faces in front of the camera, two of the behind-the-scenes folk are just as interesting. The sharp, witty screenplay was written by Chris Matheson, better known as the scribe behind Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989). Matheson’s script is full of great lines and scenes…when it isn’t overly focused on Robinson’s potty-mouth, that is. Nonetheless, there were enough genuinely great moments to make me wish Matheson would write more. He appears to be working on an adaptation of The Greatest American Hero which could be pretty great (remake notwithstanding) if he brought a tenth of the energy and nerve from this script. Cinematography duties on Rapture-Palooza, meanwhile, were handled by another ’80s-’90s-era vet, Robert C. New. While he might not be a household name, genre fans should be more than familiar with his work, since he served as director of photography on films like Prom Night (1980), Night of the Creeps (1986), Big Bad Mama II (1987) and John McNaughton’s classic, The Borrower (1991). Thanks to New, Rapture-Palooza always looks great, with vibrant colors and plenty of nicely composed shots: it looks like the furthest thing from a cheaply made, direct-to-video offering possible, even if it never received much (if any) theatrical love.
Ultimately, Rapture-Palooza, like Kevin Smith’s Dogma (1999) is one of those films that’s designed to split an audience in half. If you have any reverence for religion, particularly Christianity, this might not be the film for you. While the movie frequently takes easy potshots at its targets (to be honest, the last secular film that dealt with the Rapture in any way other than humorously was the odd Mini Driver-starrer The Rapture (1991) ), its final revelation may be a bit much for some people: to find true peace, humans need to give up their reliance on religion. While it’s not a surprising revelation (I would have been more surprised had this ended with a truly religious message, to be honest), it’s definitely something that might tune a few people out. If you have an open-mind, however, and are in the mood for some rude laughs, Rapture-Palooza could just be a little slice of Heaven on Earth. It’s the end of the world, as we know it…and it feels good.