At the 2010 South by Southwest Film Festival, almost a year ago, I sat down with Jonah Hill to talk about his latest comedy, the Duplass brothers-directed Cyrus. At the time, Hill was emerging from the Judd Apatow troupe to take on more professional challenges, including a meatier role in the dependency dramedy, voice over work in an animated DreamWorks tentpole, and sharing writing-producing duties on a comedic “21 Jump Street” adaptation.
But Hill is a self-professed film fanatic himself, and I was curious if his new career trajectory was headed towards directing. ”That’s my intention,” Hill told me at the time. ”Yeah. I feel lucky and blessed to be doing what I’m doing now, but my intention completely is to become a director. That’s exactly what I want to do. And I think the more movies I do, the more I learn and the more great directors I get to work with the more I learn about how to do that. But that is my ultimate goal. 100%.”
So it comes as no surprise that less than a year later, Hill is lining up his directorial debut on Oren Uziel’s 2010 Black List script with a tongue-in-cheek title, The Kitchen Sink.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the project was pitched as “The Breakfast Club meets Zombieland,” but there’s nothing particularly Hughesian about the story other than a few easy high school archetypes and a comparison to the undead hit is unfair to the clever send-up written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick.
If a script is aware of its stereotypical characters, does that mean it’s okay? Uziel’s genre mashup gimmick is fully conscious of its numerous clichéd influences, like an “SNL” sketch gone agonizingly long and bordering on the aimless spoof territory of hacks Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. A more appropriate comparison would be “Jennifer’s Body meets Mars Attacks!” with perhaps some Fido-style domestic zombie comedy.
Spoilers: The premise is a town is overrun by a simultaneous vampire and zombie apocalypse, then invaded by aliens. Seriously. The script starts with an attention-grabbing action sequence as Dag, an awkward average teen, and Lorelei, his hot, pot-smoking neighbor, take on the hordes of clashing undead before they’re interrupted by the abrupt arrival of otherworldly beings who disintegrate everything (and everyone) in sight.
After some flashbacks to when the world was (slightly) normal, Dag is joined by a beautiful vampire classmate named Petra and a nerdy zombie, Ned, who control their urges to devour him in order to collectively survive. Though this basically means they tolerate one another’s bellyaching about Dag’s dashed hopes for popularity, Ned’s overbearing father/senator, and Petra’s disappointment in a conniving boyfriend.
Despite being a zombie whose primary focus is braaaains, Ned has the ability to randomly form coherent sentences, if only to ask his fellow zombies where he can score some more delicious brains. Of course, they simply grunt in return. Because they’re zombies… Clever.
Meanwhile, the trio manages to discover the aliens arrived and fell in love with TiVo, specifically to continuing watching transmissions of “Nash Bridges.” Conveniently, the town is in close proximity to the dairy farm (?) of Don Johnson. Perhaps the celebrity cameo will change based on availability — Zombieland originally featured Patrick Swayze — but the Johnson-related jokes are flat and derivative of Bill Murray’s hilarious appearance.
With the “Nash Bridges” motivation uncovered, the group sets out to stop the alien invasion by satiating their craving for Johnson. (Wait, that came out wrong…) But not before an oddly serious interlude where a key vampire in the community argues the slippery slope of human prejudice against the undead. Social commentary or not, the resolute scene hardly fits what is otherwise a slapdash effort at genre bending and cheap satire.
It’s a messy script, both tonally and narratively, but the biggest disappointment is that the gimmicky Kitchen Sink is not particularly funny and not quite the project we hoped would become the first film directed by the very funny Jonah Hill.