Coons! The Night of the Bandits of the Night (2005)

2008-09-22

Sometimes, you have to wonder what people expect. When they see a title like Dance Flick, and read the name “Wayans” all over the credits, are they really anticipating some kind of comedy classic? Hasn’t history proven out that certain prospects will never payoff they way you want – or more realistically, that said desires will walk right up to said probabilities and shake their uninspired hand outright? If you want greatness, seek out the great. If you don’t care, then don’t despair when something like Coons!: Night of the Bandits of the Night plays out exactly like you think it will. Schlock doesn’t get any more silly then this – and no, the title is not meant as some kind of comic hate crime. We are dealing with killer raccoons here – intelligent diseased vermin with a mind for mayhem…and murder….and ringworm. Leave it to an Ohio film student and his “we think we’re funny” friends to take the man vs. nature film to foolish, amateurish (and quite fun) extremes.

In the small town of Independence, Summer means one thing – drunken college kids and camping – usually in that order. For the newly appointed Park Ranger Danger, this means keeping his eye on the tourists while making the dictatorial Mayor as happy as possible. When a pair of young lovers dies deep in the woods, the initial reaction is panic. When competing “experts” show up to shed light on the attack, the consensus is clear – the duo were killed by an angry, infected raccoon. Naturally, Ranger Danger is not happy about the verdict, especially with a campground overrun by liquored up teenagers. One by one, the youngsters are murdered, more than one rabid ‘coon responsible for the deaths. When an aging hippy and his Arab buddy decided to bomb the animal’s den, it’s up to the virgin Ty Smallwood to save the day – or something like that.

There’s a running joke in Coons! , one that has self-aware irony written all over it. Whenever a character comes into contact with something salacious or scatological, they stop and say “that’s sophomoric and tasteless.” And indeed, at first glance, this giant goofball of a film certainly looks like a combination of juvenilia and calculated crudity. It reeks of the kind of humor that plays best after a couple of dozen beers, a beefy bean burrito fart or two, and a few snorts of airplane glue. But beyond the frat boy ebullience is a spoof rich in character and rife with legitimate laughs. Are there dick jokes and an obsession with homosexuality that’s almost phobic? Sure. Can these first time filmmaking missteps be overlooked in favor of a whacky work of weirdness that turns classic ’70s titles like Grizzly and Day of the Animals into strokes of genius? You bet.

You see, one of the best things about Coons! is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It knows this material can’t work as legitimate horror, perhaps because of all the ratty taxidermy mistakes standing in for actual monsters. Let’s face it – when you have a molting member of the raccoon family flashing its fake teeth at an actor in some equally false facial hair, nothing you do can can create a sense of dread Instead, what writer/director Travis Irvine manages is a hackneyed homage which can stand on its own as a rightful parody – and he really does succeed. This is especially true when we get the “experts” – local know-it-all doctor, smarty pants government out of towner, psycho religious preacher, and a dull as dishwater hunter – each one drawn in the most cartoonish (and clever) of terms. Their presence takes a film that would have been a well intentioned lark and actually argues for the talent of the man behind (and the men in front of) the lens.

There is a lot of fun here, as well as a lot of incredibly bad BS. After all, musical numbers in the middle of a slapstick farce can either be terrific, or trying. Here, they’re a combination of both. Similarly, once we get the raccoon take-over and the plot to blow up the den, the movie starts to meander. Even at a swift 85 minutes, things tend to trail off as characters talk incessantly and pad out the running time. There is also a significant lack of chick in this major league cinematic sausage factory. There are just too many guys here and not enough gals eager to take of their tops and expose their critical calling cards. It’s not a personal need, mind you. Movies like this need blood and gore (there is some of that), but more importantly, they need bare breasts. Without them, they fail one of the basic b-movie mandates.

Still, it easy to fall in ‘like’ with Irvine’s insane love letter to all things rural and inbred. There’s an inherent sense of adventure here, a joy in creation that’s lacking in a lot of direct to DVD product. And the cast are completely in tune with the needs of the narrative, staying in character just long enough to get their points across before going off on unrehearsed (and frequently hilarious) tangents. Did we need the post-9/11 terrorism stuff? No. How about the obvious bow to African American sensitivity in the form of an overweight black man shocked by the locals use of the title word? Not really. Does the hippy character come in like a satiric salve, trying to infuse the film with an environmental message it never sets up in the first place? Sure. Does the entire thing drip of weekends spent hitting the bong and then storyboarding shots? Hell yes – and in some ways, that’s Coons!: Night of the Bandits of the Night’s major saving grace. Taken too sincerely, this material would melt under the scrutiny of a far more critical eye. Lightened up, it’s a likable little lampoon.

RATING 7 / 10
PopMatters