Sometimes, you watch a movie that’s so instantly and painfully bad that you imagine it cannot top itself in terms of sheer, head-shaking awfulness. And then Gary Busey shows up as a local sheriff, so that he can spew his patented brand of craziness on screen for a few minutes. And then Wee Man from Jackass shows up in a cameo as a TV reporter, simply so a) someone else can shout “Jackass!” at him and b) he can be electrocuted and killed, because…comedy? And then Justin Bieber has a wordless role as an inmate, because Selena Gomez asked him to do her a favor, probably. It is, admittedly, inaccurate to suggest that such cringe-inducing experiences happen “sometimes.” No, there’s just one movie that offers so many unpleasant and unpalatable elements in one package, and it’s called Behaving Badly.
Nat Wolff plays Rick Stevens, a teenager who begins the film by informing the audience, both via voiceover narration and fourth-wall-breaking addresses to the audience, about how bad his life is right now: his dad’s in jail, his mom’s just attempted to commit suicide, the girl of his dreams can’t stand him, the Lithuanian mob is after him, plus he has crabs. So, you know, it’s a normal Tuesday for most of us. Rick brings us back to when all this craziness started, just two weeks ago when he accepted a bet from a creepy kid who happens to be the son of a Lithuanian mob boss to hook up with Nina (Gomez), said girl of Rick’s dreams. It’s challenging enough to woo this proudly chaste young woman with her obnoxious ex-boyfriend breathing down his neck. Add in the loutish strip-club owner who Rick works for (Dylan McDermott), his deviant dad (Cary Elwes), his alcoholic mother (Mary-Louise Parker), and the lusty mother of his best friend (Elisabeth Shue), and…well, you have too many ingredients for a 95-minute movie. Even worse, co-writer and director Tim Garrick, along with co-writer Scott Russell, present all of this so glibly that it approaches the level of cartoonish within minutes.
Perhaps that’s simply Garrick and Russell being faithful to the source material, the book While I’m Dead Feed The Dog by Ric Browde. Maybe all of what transpires in this film, or a good chunk of it, happened in some form to a real human being. The problem is that Behaving Badly is completely, utterly empty, a soulless husk of a project. Some of its actors have real talent–Wolff especially–and are all but encouraged to act as terribly as possible. Perhaps there’s meant to be some kind of kitsch value in having Heather Graham play a lawyer, or Jason Lee play a spray-tanned Catholic priest, or McDermott play a horny nutjob who gets off on pain. But there’s no joy or humor in their scenes, and how could there be? The line “Squeeze them like they’re little Filipino children,” courtesy of McDermott’s character, is a perfect example of what this film considers the peak of hilarity. What may be worse, too, is that at some point, Behaving Badly tries to be sincere and fails miserably. We’re constantly told how much Rick desires Nina, but that’s primarily because she’s pretty and less because he relates to her for her mind. So when they have a late-stage heart-to-heart, it falls flat, because after an hour of unremitting and noxious chaos, who cares about the two stick figures at the center?
Behaving Badly is a contender for the worst film of the year, an amoral and nonsensical piece of tripe that has no idea what it wants to be. Does it want to be a teenage sex comedy a la Porky’s or Superbad? Does it want to be a coming-of-age story of broken teenagers, a la The Perks of Being A Wallflower? Does it want to be a piercing satire of modern suburbia, a 2010s-era version of American Beauty? The result–how about all three?–is a train wreck from its pointless in medias res beginning to its gross, incestuous conclusion. So many of the people in this movie–and there are a lot of good-to-great actors in this film, all of whom must have owed large favors–have proven their worth in other projects, and will do so in the future. The best thing to do about Behaving Badly is not to see it, but forget it exists. One can only hope.