The new Netflix comedy “Little Evil” belongs in a time capsule. No, it’s not a future film classic. Hardly. It’s more that it represents where film culture stands in 2017.
- The screenplay is littered with unnecessary profanity.
- The jokes rarely land as intended.
- The story features a character stripped from our newly “woke” playbook.
- A man of faith is your enemy du jour.
- You’re better off re-watching a horror-comedy classic like “An American Werewolf in London.”
Adam Scott stars as Gary, a new stepfather to 6-year-old Lucas (Owen Atlas). The child is … odd. And it might have to do with his sartorial choices. He’s gussied up like the kid from “The Omen.”
That’s your first clue of what comes next.
Naturally, stepfather and son don’t exactly bond. But Gary isn’t giving up on first-time parenting, even if the boy’s biological father has a devilish streak.
The film’s first half yields one good laugh, and it’s so brief you might miss it. We get the obligatory demon child references along with name-checking “Ghostbusters” minutiae. Helpful hint: Never make viewers recall a far superior movie.
Gary’s best bud is “AL,” played by female comic Bridget Everett (“Patti Cakes”). AL is married to a woman and speaks fluent “bro.” Gary doesn’t bat an eye over any of it. Nor does the film. In fact, we’re continually reminded that AL is a dude by her comments.
“Let’s hit the Man Cave!” AL cries at one point, but it’s not played for laughs or irony. It’s likely the first gender fluid horror-comedy character, and the film won’t let us forget it.
We’re given one final woke nod in the third act, as the child’s mother (Evangeline Lilly) gets her heroic close-up. The action comes out of nowhere, but the purpose is clear — to prevent a crush of Social Justice Warriors decrying her passive state.
It also gives Lilly something to do, since she doesn’t flex much comedic muscle up until then.
“Little Evil” fails on the comedy front, but the film violently switches gears mid-movie. Gary and Lucas share an unexpected father-son moment. We’re suddenly invested in the story for the first time. Credit Scott, a reliable comic premise, for making the sequence click. His cruelly ignored “The Vicious Kind” revealed his legitimate dramatic chops.
Pushing aside the social politics, “Little Evil” is an oddly sweet ode to both parenting and step-parenting. For all its flaws, that message resonates above all else.
The rest of the time the screenplay substitutes swearing for humor. Much like the summer’s worst comedies (think “Baywatch” and “Rough Night”), “Little Evil” has an unrepentant potty mouth. There’s nothing wrong with an R-rated comedy, but these days it’s often a sign of creative infertility.
AL’s banter, for example, is uniformly grating, not hilarious.
“Little Evil” director Eli Craig previously gave us “Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil,” a blossoming cult classic. That film cleverly stoked horror film tropes to solid effect. “Little Evil” is far more interested in scoring cultural points.