Release: Friday, October 2, 2015
Written by: Tom Gianas; Hugh Sterbakov; Zeb Wells
Directed by: Tom Gianas; Ross Shuman
Hell and Back is the result of a very goofy experiment. It manifests as Tom Gianas and Ross Shuman’s crude mash-up of Beavis and Butthead‘s juvenile sense of humor with Team America‘s suggestive (offensive?) usage of stop-motion animation.
The long and short of it? If you’re a fan of things like South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut or even just the episodes of the show where Satan plays a prominent role in the narrative, this gleefully profane trip to the bowels of the underworld is going to be right up your alley. You probably won’t even mind the fact that ultimately the farcical adventure succumbs to being just too stupid — most of the time you’ll be so caught up in the visual oddity, the spectacle of buffoonery that it really is, that you will have missed the memo about anything making sense here.
Three . . . I guess you could call them friends . . . work at a shabby theme park that is about to be foreclosed upon due to its being just a total POS. There’s the hipster/punk Remy (Nick Swardson), chubby Augie (T.J. Miller) and the conniving Curt (Rob Riggle) who is really good at bumming things without paying back. When he once again callously thieves a mint from Remy after taking a blood oath, he finds himself getting dragged down to hell via a portal that opens up in the tent of the bizarre Madame Zonar. Remy and Augie chase after him by jumping in to the same portal.
The sooner you accept this development as the catalyst for the rest of your viewing entertainment, the better, because Hell and Back is very adept at upping the ante when it comes to the bizarre. Hell is depicted as a (spoiler alert) miserable place where souls are tortured without mercy, and Satan (Bob Odenkirk) rules like a badass while trying to impress the beautiful Angel Barb (Susan Sarandon). This is a world filled with degenerates and supreme underachievers . . . and H. Jon Benjamin-voiced trees that happen to be sex offenders. On the matter of torture, it can be hard to watch: there’s the Taco Bell/Pizza Hut split restaurant where you can’t buy pizza, only Taco Bell products; neapolitan ice cream is available but only the strawberry flavor and the escalators don’t work so you have to use them like stairs.
The adventure pits Remy and Augie against hell’s aggressive demons and myriad other dangers but they also find assistance in the form of Mila Kunis’ Deema. With her the pair set off to find Orpheus (Danny McBride), a Greek legend who can remove mortals from the depths of hell. They believe he’s their only hope of finding Curt and escaping with their lives. Unfortunately when they encounter him Orpheus is loathe to help as he claims to have retired from the game of saving mortals. (More on his story if you so choose to watch this film, but I won’t ruin it here.)
Hell and Back is a patently absurd production, and the deeper we venture into it the more the guys behind this seem to revel in the weirdness. Though it lacks a lot of the really pointed criticisms of contemporary society that Trey Parker and Matt Stone infuse their work with, this collaborative script is a relentless parody of Biblical cliché where the jokes (and swear words) flow freely and the visuals complement the material disturbingly appropriately.
When it comes to the impact of said jokes this is certainly a case of quantity over quality but that’s not to the complete detriment of the film as a lot of them land and land hard. A superb range of voice talent brings a ridiculous cast of characters to life, and while the story does sag like something I can’t mention here, when all is said and done, reveling in the weirdness is just too fun.
Recommendation: Fans of Beavis and Butthead, South Park and Family Guy need apply. Delightfully tacky yet unrefined (wait, whoops), Hell and Back fits the bill of a guilty pleasure for those with a more cynical sense of humor. Some pretty good fun to be had here.
Running Time: 86 mins.
Quoted: “I’m so scared my shit just shit its pants.”
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