Useless Humans. 2020.
Directed by Stephen Ohl.
Starring Josh Zuckerman, Rushi Kota, Davida Williams, Luke Youngblood, James Croak, and Joey Kern.
A thirtieth birthday — and the survival of mankind — are left hanging in the balance after a mysterious creature crashes the party, forcing four childhood friends to save the night.
Stephen Ohl’s Useless Humans is an unfortunate case where energetic cast members try their hardest to sell a markedly unspectacular production. What’s billed as a stoner-boozer comedy during an alien invasion is nothing but an existential crisis film for “mature” millennials that bursts like a cliché-filled piñata. It’s never meant to be anything more than slapstick, but struggles with the tremendous task of making any narrative decisions read naturally. Between the constant alcohol-obsessed “jokes,” color-by-numbers structure, and hopelessly forced party-fowl dialogue? There’s a lot of uselessness alright, often in the worst ways.
Mechanical engineer Brian Skaggs (Josh Zuckerman) has finally convinced his lifelong friends to reunite thanks to his thirtieth birthday milestone. Surgeon Louis (Rushi Kota), humanitarian Jess (Davida Williams), and professional rager Alex (Luke Youngblood) meet once more at the Skaggs vacation home for shenanigans. Unfortunately, someone crashes the party. No, not Jess’ hipster-as-hemp boyfriend Zachary (Joey Kern). An alien entity begins sucking their energy dry and displays aggression, for purposes unknown. What are five intoxicated companions to do? Save the world, no duh.
In terms of narrative ambition, Useless Humans feels like the result of feeding artificial intelligent thousands of sci-fi horror comedies and asking said program to spit out a movie. “Earth humans consume hundreds of liquor nutrition! Extraterrestrial maybe-friend, maybe-enemy appears so that wacky hijinx ensue! Scientist Woman #1 and Military Woman #1 are hired by Big Corporation to track glowy martian!” I’d expect something with four credited writers to take bigger swings, but every benchmark event in their screenplay is a generic representation of “something important” wedged in without genuine flow. Beat by beat, Ohl’s drunken defense flick is so unforgivably silly – and not as a “ha-ha” comedic compliment.
It’s a shame because the cast is charismatic, there’s just no character depth. Zuckerman’s been a favorite of mine in both horror and comedies (Sex Drive/Feast), but he’s asked to pull some of the cheesiest rom-com reactions when confronted about Davida Williams’ blatant meant-for-each-other crush. Joey Kern’s non-profit lover’s introduction is meant to drive relationship drama, yet he’s immediately outed as an asshole through the dumbest of dick-pic-sending decisions. Rushi Kota’s flight-over-fight family man is removed from the film for an oddly extended duration and comes back with equally buffoonish reinsertion. Pieces don’t add up, no matter how funny a few of the That ’70s Show rotational camera improvs might be upon delivery (characters revealing why their thirties suck).
The humor in Useless Humans is paramount because there’s such a veer away from any attainable horrors. Actor James Croak wears a prosthetic suit that brings a full-to-form alien to life, but outstretched fingers without clean jointed movements display the costume’s shortcomings. The alien can teleport, protects a metallic egg-shaped counter of some sort, and might rip a heart out or two. It’s also the main reason why Useless Humans exists, yet there’s nothing that impressive beyond initial gasps and illuminated cranial orbs. Then it’s right back to Brian’s inabilities to follow-through on life goals, Jess’ obvious feelings for Brian that she continually denies, and Alex’s sole defining character trait being that he loves getting blackout drunk (except if its light beer).
Useless Humans is a witless comedy about getting older, embracing the life your parents warned you about, and an alien with blurry motivations (until a reveal three seconds before the credits that is head-scratching at best, tonally destructive at worst). Stephen Ohl strives to say something meaningful between environmental terrors and “maturity” acceptance, but does so through a mediocre interstellar standoff. Everything happens that you’d expect from special agent interference to the ingestion of ‘shrooms as a threat is bashing down your door, in a way that’s never thought out beyond momentary plot advancement. At times, we’re treated to what’s essentially this sloshed Scooby-Doo Where Are You! episode with blundering heroes, a monster that appears at literal random, and zero sense of consequence despite supporting character demises. Did I mention these characters love beer? I can’t stress this enough, because the film itself beats this “hilarious” point like a dead Budweiser Clydesdale.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).