Overview: A trio of high school graduate burn-outs open a portal to hell in a wildly mature-themed stop motion animated feature. Freestyle Releasing; 2015; Rated R; 84 minutes.
Welcome to Hell: There are a number of potentially stale and uninspired spurts of glib humor that attempt to invigorate co-directors Tom Gianas and Ross Shuman’s latest feature length film with some of the irreverent joie di vis of the latter lead animator’s past work on such seminal Adult Swim shows as Moral Orel and Robot Chicken. For the most part, it works. When it doesn’t, an outcome that comprises roughly half of the film proper, the entire production can appear lukewarm in tone, comic value, and overall quality. Respectively, Gianas’ past work with one of the lead cast members, one Bob Odenkirk, on such programs as the Tenacious D: The Greatest Band on Earth television series that originally aired on HBO in the late 1990s, doesn’t seem entirely sure of his own abilities here either, though both filmmakers may have the script to blame for what is an entirely dodgy affair to begin with.
Mortal Souls of Clay: At its heart, Hell and Back is an attractively packaged, adult animated feature to match much of the style and thematic content of the aforementioned Robot Chicken program, and for the most part it manages to marry that style to a dramatically cohesive narrative whole. The basic premise of the film is as thin as it sounds, but thanks to stellar voice acting from lead talents Nick Swardson, T.J. Miller, Rob Riggle, and Mila Kunis, the world becomes imbued with the flavorful talents of its supported cast, which includes a plethora of seminal stand-up comedians that serve to embolden an otherwise lackluster production. Ultimately, the moral souls of clay bound for eternal damnation that make up the world of Gianas and Shuman’s latest effort are seemingly made for television broadcast, and may not offer many genuinely heartfelt moments of comic insight, but will keep you entertained for the duration of the meager production of which they are the stars.
Adult-Oriented Schlock: Like Robot Chicken, Schuman’s latest work is oriented with adult viewers in mind, though the sophomoric nature of many of its comedy beats might seem to play more to the sensibilities of your typical high school student serving time in detention for some related juvenile crime or misdemeanor. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but then again it doesn’t make for an entirely engaging theatrical experience either, a fact proven when the schlock that is Hell and Back failed to make over $200,000 at the box office last fall. The movie is certainly not boring, and you might just find yourself having an affordable good time form the comfort of home if you so choose to see the movie on the more quality appropriate VOD movie viewing venue, but you also won’t be surprised by anything that the film has to offer its viewers. In short, Schuman’s latest borrows from much of his work on the small screen to smaller rewards, making it feel like a made-for-TV special rather than a major motion picture release.
Overall: There are better ways to spend an hour and a half, but Hell and Back might still amuse you if you enjoy the comedians who make up the film’s impressive cast of voice actors.