Here’s a fun social experiment: try describing the premise of Jacob Vaughan’s Bad Milo to movie goers and see how long it takes for each of those people to give you a skeptical glance or laugh out of nervousness.
It’s because Bad Milo is an odd movie with an odd set-up. On the surface, it’s Office Space with a dash of Gremlins mixed in with a rough night after some bad Taco Bell.
To elaborate, Bad Milo is about Ken (played by Ken Marino) trying to live with constant gurgling pains as a result of bottling in his stress. His workspace along with his passive boss (played by Patrick Warburton doing his usual routine) offer lots of problems, Ken’s mother (played by Mary Kay Place) is pressuring him and his wife (played by Gillian Jacobs) to expand their family, and the overall assertiveness suggesting Ken should seek therapeutic help is enough to send the poor man into the bathroom with stomach cramps.
Ken finally finds out that all his stress has developed a new, toothy untamed friend – he names Milo – residing in his anal cavity. And, just as Bruce Banner would grow and tear his clothes if someone made him angry, Ken’s frustrated fretting sends Milo speeding out of the shadows and in for the kill.
Jacob Vaughan’s direction and his script co-written by Benjamin Hayes is silly on top of silly, and then adds utter absurdity on top of it. However, the most unexpected part about Bad Milo is how weirdly touched I was by it.
Under the fart gags and the abnormalities acquired by this rancid case, Vaughan and Hayes have supplied a story with heart and characters that are easy to stay glued to. Marino for instance, in a rare leading role, does a great job at playing this role with a straight face while also realizing how ridiculous the stakes are getting to be. Place is hitting all the right notes as Ken’s relentless mother and Jacobs is sweet as someone who cares for her husband but is just as confused by his unusually long bathroom breaks.
The story deals with abandonment issues that don’t feel out of place. In fact, they give the audience more reason to see where Ken’s search will lead to as he tries to rekindle ties between himself and his father (played by an enjoyable Stephen Root).
Admittingly, not all of it works. There are drab jokes involving a character named Dr. Yip (played by Steve Zissis who’s trying to make his material work). Audiences are supposed to laugh at how intrusive and insensitive he is towards Ken, but the punchlines are too obvious – even for an exaggerated film like Bad Milo. His gory encounter with Milo may gross you out and shock you, but even during this perilous situation, it’s hard to feel anything towards a character that hasn’t done anything to engage.
I liked Warburton’s monotone deliveries, but I understand this tough guy could play the role in his sleep at this point. I had a similar feeling with Peter Stormare in Bad Milo. He plays Highsmith, a therapist who believes in hypnosis. Stormare is in his strange mode we’ve all seen before, but Highsmith grows on you and his chemistry with Marino will definitely have you giggling.
Vaughan is aiming his horror-comedy to be a tribute to those bizarre-o monster movies, occasionally tipping his hat towards filmmaker Joe Dante or anyone who made a “killer fill-in-the-blank” movie in the 50’s. His homages feel sincere and never stale. In fact, it feels as if he’s trying to capture those qualities he loved from those movies and deliver them to a modern audience. The tongue-in-cheek satire wavers during the second act of Bad Milo, but Vaughan is always able to keep the entertainment values alive.
It takes a lot of courage to try and make a movie like Bad Milo. It takes an even braver filmmaker to ask an audience to take the film seriously after portraying explosive diarrhea scenes that jumpstart memories we had from Dumb and Dumber. But, Bad Milo is highly surprising with how much it’s able to deliver to audiences. Even if you collect all the blood that’s spilled throughout Bad Milo, it doesn’t come close to the amount of guts Jacob Vaughan has.