Hell & Back,
directed by Tom Gianas & Ross Shuman
(Freestyle, 2015)

Sometimes when I'm feeling particularly ill, I rummage through my Netflix options until I find something that looks so bad it's going to be good. This time, I found Hell & Back, a film in a stop-motion animation style that takes its protagonists -- a couple of friends from a failing carnival -- to, um, Hell and back.

Unfortunately, this one was so bad that it was simply bad. It never got good. I felt cheated.

When pals Remy (Nick Swardson) and Augie (T.J. Miller) find a weeping Satan tome in the local fortuneteller's shop, they think it might be a cool gimmick to lure patrons to the carnival. But they trick friend Curt (Rob Riggle) into making a silly blood oath, which he immediately reneges on and, consequently, gets sucked into Hell. Rey and Augie follow him to try and save him, and they meet Dema, a purple half-demon (Mila Kunis), who is looking for Orpheus (Danny McBride) of Greek mythology fame for reasons of her own. Believing Orpheus can help them save Curt, Remy and Augie tag along. Meanwhile, the Devil (Bob Odenkirk) wants to seduce Barb the Angel (Susan Sarandon), which for reasons means he has to sacrifice Curt and rescue Remy and Augie.

Oh, and H. Jon Benjamin, of whom I expect better, is a hellish tree. A tree that rapes people, specifically, although he feels bad about it after.

This movie is chock full of sophomoric humor that might make a 13-year-old viewer giggle, but this R-rated movie isn't for youngsters, so I'm not sure who the target audience is. Adults who laugh at the never-ending glut of sex, poop and stoner jokes really need to re-examine their lives. And the writers need to learn that simply peppering the script with curse words isn't actually comedy.

The animation seemed cheap, like the makers started out with some good designs but ran out of funds when it came time to bring it all to life. I've seen amateur stop-motion gags on YouTube that looked more professionally done. (It was actually a lot like watching a feature-length episode of Robot Chicken -- except that Robot Chicken is actually funny.)

Oh, there was one funny bit. Periodically throughout the film we see an eager demon torturing a mildly annoyed soul by, for instance, offering pizza on the menu but not really having pizza, or offering a cold soda but providing one that is flat. The jokes are a little lame, but the exasperated complaints of the put-upon soul actually made me grin.

Sadly, that made up for maybe 90 seconds of the movie. The rest was a total bust.

review by
Tom Knapp

26 March 2016

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