Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for Shockya. Databased on Rotten Tomatoes.
Grade: C
Director:  Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion
Written by: Leigh Whannell, Ian Brennan
Cast: Elijah Wood, Alison Pill Jack McBrayer, Rainn Wilson
Screened at: Review, NYC, 9/14/15
Opens:  September 18, 2015

Kids all over the country do not like the food served in their cafeteria lunches, or at least pretend to hate the stuff in order to fit in.  They call the mysterious, gray meat “murderburgers,” though not usually expecting their listeners to take them literally.  Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion, who direct “Cooties” and Leigh Whannell and Ian Brennan who wrote the script do indeed opt to call some of this lunchroom food killers. Makes no difference that the entrée they choose is chicken nuggets and not burgers.  A bad piece of chicken becomes a murdernugget. Anyone who eats the stuff becomes afflicted with cooties, a fictitious childhood disease.

Killing with all attendant blood is the order of the day in “Cooties,” which among other things violates the rule that you should not show little children getting killed.  The fourth graders do get killed such as by being clubbed on the head repeatedly with a fire extinguisher and by being run over by a truck and burned alive.  And this is a comedy.  “Cooties” is a zombie horror-melodrama that proceeds at a frantic pace, designed for the large segments of the movie audience that can’t sit still and listen to normal dialogue.  The pace does not really slacken, the stereotypes of teachers and grade-school kids abound.  Aside from the age of the zombies, this movie is as derivative as they come.  If you generally do not care for zombie movies, you will not dig this one.  But if you’re a teacher or even a parent seeking revenge against some little monster, “Cooties” will meet your needs, at least for most of its 96 minutes’ length.

Elijah Wood stars as Clint Hadson, an aspiring young writer whose subject for a first novel is a boat that’s possessed, though Clint cannot get past Chapter one.  In fact he can’t quite construct an opening sentence.  It’s no wonder that he needs to do something to raise money, even if he is living with his mother though into his twenties, but he picks a profession that’s even harder than writing a novel.  He becomes a substitute teacher.  Figuring that the kids in the rural town of some 45,000 souls would be easy to handle, he could not have been more wrong. What’s more, he has to do double-takes to realize that some of his new colleagues are crazier than the youngsters in their charge, including the macho phys ed dude Wade (Rainn Wilson), the gym teacher’s eternally upbeat girlfriend Lucy (Alison Pill), the socially backward Doug (Leigh Whannell, who spends his free time in the lounge reading a book on how to start a conversation, and the less developed characters of Tracy (Jack McBrayer) and Rebekkah (Nasim Pedrad).

The movie starts with violence and ends with destruction.  Milott and Murnion open in a small chicken processing plant where a worker, angry that the bird he chooses to slaughter is fighting him, wrings the creature’s neck.  The chickens are then processed into nuggets, covered with goo, and unknown to the workers in the plant are infected with a virus.  When the kids eat the lunch, they quickly turn into zombies, starting when one of the teased girls leaps on her tormentor and takes a deep bite from his cheek.  Soon enough the youngsters form a bloody alliance against the common enemy, the teaching staff, which then spends most of the film running from the undead or fighting them with fire extinguishers, gasoline, whips and chains.  Usually zombies do not run: they walk with purpose toward the humans but kids being kids, they are quite capable of running, tearing apart any human that could not get out of their way.

There are some romantic moments as between Clint and Lucy to the chagrin of Lucy’s regular b.f. but without a social message (“Cooties” could have been an allegory of over-medicated children and parents strung out of prescription drugs) there is little other than mayhem and stereotypical dialogue in this derivative pic.

Rated R.  96 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C
Acting – C-
Technical – C+
Overall – C


By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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