Few movies feel as strained as those that consider themselves cult classics in the making, drunk on the suspicion that a certain audience will embrace their self-conscious weirdness. Jacob Vaughan’s Bad Milo!, though, goes further, by which I mean not very far at all: this horror-comedy about a demonic creature who emerges from a man’s ass only sounds like a transparent attempt to create a cult classic. As it turns out, this ass-demon movie isn’t weird or perverse or even disgusting enough to qualify.
Instead, Bad Milo! goes about the dispiriting business of attempting to satirize modern life and depending entirely on nonexistent people and scenarios to do so. All of that culty strain is wasted on establishing that Duncan (Ken Marino) is really, really stressed out. Get this: His mother (Mary Kay Place) is so nosy about his lack of a child with Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) that she invites a fertility doctor over to dinner to say lascivious stuff that no doctor would say in this situation, not least because no doctor would be in this situation. And in case any of the audience misses how supposedly hilarious all of that is, the filmmakers throw in a younger boyfriend for Duncan’s mother who also says a bunch of lewd sex stuff while insisting that Duncan call him “dad.”
All of that is a mere single, terrible scene; Bad Milo! may run less than an hour and a half, but it has minutes upon endless minutes at its disposal to establish Duncan’s life pressures over and over again. The boss who reassigns Duncan from accounting to human resources is so cartoonishly deadpan in his evilness that he’s played by Patrick Warburton, and for no reason at all beyond clumsy metaphor, his job reassignment places him at a desk in a former men’s room. If these all sound like funny premises for comedy sketches, well, maybe they would have worked that way. The movie, though, is pitched stupidly between sketch and reality.
The cartoonish aggravations of Duncan’s life cause him horrific gastrointestinal stress; eventually, after much screaming and flinching and passing out, Milo emerges to escape into the night and smite Duncan’s enemies. The Milo design is a movie highlight: it looks like something out of an eighties-era creature shop, an amusingly gross cross between a mogwai and a gremlin. Even a low-budget version of this puppet is weirdly expressive, and easily the funniest part of a movie that wastes never-unwelcome (and usually funnier) character actors like Peter Stormare and Stephen Root.
The body-horror metaphor of Milo is potent: Jekyll/Hyde dynamics manifested into a medical condition. But the movie is too busy nudging at both its themes (Milo is directly described as a “physical manifestation of [Duncan’s] dark side”) and its comedy, complete with cutesy insinuations from its relentless score, to make anything more of this idea.
It’s all too bad for Ken Marino, who tries his best to give a real performance as Duncan. He got his start on the MTV sketch series The State, and proved he could be funny in a more grounded context on shows like Party Down and Veronica Mars. He even worked in straight-drama mode for the little-seen Diggers. Maybe that’s why his late-movie bonding scenes with Milo, where he balances deadpan absurdism with actual human emotion, outclass so much of the rest of the movie. Mostly, though, he’s adrift, trying desperately to sell an idea that the filmmakers haven’t bothered to flesh out.