At a research lab a dumb janitor gets bitten by an infected patient unleashing a zombie virus on an unsuspecting town. Meanwhile boy scouts Ben (Tye Sheridan) and Carter (Logan Miller) debate whether or not to ditch a camp-out with their dorky friend Augie (Joey Morgan) to hang out with the cool kids at an awesome party. Ben is torn because on the one hand he feels a sense of loyalty to Augie who is mourning his late father. On the other hand Ben has a crush on Carter's beautiful sister, Kendall (Halston Sage) and the party could be his one chance to romance her. Naturally, the zombie virus spoils everyone's plans. On the run from flesh-eating hordes the boys team up with Denise (Sarah Dumont), a gorgeous gun-toting stripper, and try use their scouting skills to survive the night.
Much like a shambling horde of undead zombie comedies have proliferated in the decade since Shaun of the Dead (2004). Each new film adopts a gimmick without contributing anything new to the worn-out genre. In the case of Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse the gimmick, in case you had not noticed, is scouts. The script, co-written by Carrie Lee Wilson, Emi Mochizuki and director Christopher Landon - son of actor-writer-director Michael Landon of Little House on the Prairie and I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) fame - from a story by Lona Williams, adopts as its starting point the notion that scouting is hopelessly uncool. Which might irk the millions of boys and girls around the world that still embrace scouting enthusiastically, but deftly serves the central joke. When the apocalypse arrives only the scouts have the survival skills to make it through while almost everyone else, bar tough cookie Denise, is fatally unprepared. Ultimately the film serves up a cockeyed salute to scouting, concluding that notions like an honour code and civic duty are worth celebrating. It is also an amiable throwback to goofy Eighties horror comedies like Night of the Creeps (1986).
The humour is broad and obvious though occasionally amusing. A few gags are too contrived to really work up laughs. For example Scout Leader Rogers' (David Koechner) Dolly Parton obsession is only there so Landon can stage a zombie attack to the theme song from Nine to Five (1980). The same goes for the zombie sing along to Britney Spears' 'Hit Me Baby, One More Time.' Wilson, Mochizuki and Landon are clearly fans of zombie movies given they lift so many ideas and images from genre favourites: the convenience store raid from Shaun of the Dead, the military bomb threat from Return of the Living Dead (1985), the action hero gets tooled up montage from Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn (1987), even the infamous cunnilingus gag from Re-Animator (1985). However, there are a few decent original ideas including the trampoline escape sequence and a fun scene with zombie cats. As a raunchy teen comedy it is capable of towering crassness (e.g. Carter awestruck by a jiggling pair of big zombie breasts) but also moments of ingratiating subtlety (Augie gives zombie Rogers his wig back so he can retain his dignity). Especially well handled is the strip club scene where the boys confront a zombie lap dancer. Here Landon, screenwriter of Disturbia (2007) and three films in the Paranormal Activity franchise, does a fine job exploring the latent fear that underlines adolescent sexual curiosity as teenage fantasy turns into nightmare.
Characterization proves variable. While Ben and Augie are engaging and share an interesting dynamic, love interest Kendall is merely a plot device and Carter largely a catalyst to fuel conflict. He contributes little besides sarcasm and complaining. To the film's credit it does manage to have things both ways with the character of Denise who is both sexy and strong, a gun-toting fetish figure in denim short-shorts in the Claudia Jennings mould. Along with being the toughest character in the film she is pleasingly nuanced, lamenting the high school obsession with popularity that stranded her in a dead-end job. Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse functions at its best as a coming-of-age fable with scouting as a metaphor. Augie clings to scouting as his connection to the past whereas Ben and Carter worry their friendship and membership in the scouts will leave them stunted in infancy. Amidst the hit-and-miss humour the script has a fairly sophisticated message arguing one need not abandon our childhood values to pursue adulthood but rather learn from past lessons to grow. That plus a wince-inducing gag with an elastic zombie penis.