If mere premises were movies, The Package would certainly be in contention for the newly announced “popular” Best Picture Oscar.
Its central idea–a race against time to return a severed penis to its original owner so it can be reattached–is the kind of off-the-wall “what if?” scenario that can easily send a group of close friends into giggling fits. I know that my friends and I have cheerfully wasted many an evening indulging equally, if not more, sophomoric hypothetical scenarios. Movies, however, are not our friends, no matter how clearly lonely we all are and want them to be. Movies are stories. They require quite a bit more than a solid “what if?” And unfortunately, a story is not something that The Package is equipped to provide.
Netflix won a bidding war to acquire the film when it was called The Eggplant Emoji, which at the time seemed perfectly reasonable. The Package comes from some unusually capable comedic minds. The Workaholics gang, Blake Anderson, Adam Devine, Anders Holm, and Kyle Newacheck all serve as producers with Anderson even adopting a small role in the film. The movie is directed by Funny or Die veteran Jake Szymanski who has a legitimately impressive comedy directing C.V. including several SNL Digital Shorts, HBO’s Tour de Pharmacy, and Jon Mulaney’s stand-up special New in Town. There’s also some dude named Ben Stiller involved as producer. Jerry’s son? The very same!
None of that initial promise, however, ever makes it to the screen. Five teenagers, Donnie (Luke Spencer Roberts), Jeremy (Eduardo Franco), Sean (Daniel Doheny), Sarah (Sadie Calvano), and Becky (Geraldine Viswanathan), all decide to take a summer camping trip. The crew sets off into the woods armed with two coolers of beer, plenty of dumb white kids doing stuff while listening to rap montages, and a Jeremy’s butterfly knife.
On night one, when Jeremy heads off to pee, Sean and Donnie make the mistake of sneaking up on him while he’s fiddling with his butterfly knife. In one fell stroke, Jeremy is hilariously bloodily dismembered. The lad is air-vacced back to civilization while the remaining four kids are charged with finding and returning his peepee to the hospital within a 12-hour window to reattach.
The Package’s fundamental issue is that it doesn’t have enough content to fill the time it’s been given. The Package is roughly 93 minutes and that feels 40 to 60 minutes too long. I was told that the arrival of new streaming media would mean that we wouldn’t be so reliant on arbitrary “movie” or “TV” running times anymore. I was lied to. It’s particularly disheartening since director Szymanski has experience with non-traditional running times in Tour de Pharmacy (which runs for a perfectly acceptable 41 minutes).
The premise itself is solid enough, but can only realistically generate so much story and laughter on its own. Within the construct of a 90-minute film, screenwriters Kevin Burrows and Matt Mider must build unrelated stories and arcs to supplement the de-dickening. It feels like a bait and switch to watch a movie that begins with an outrageous Bobbitting and then immediately settles into a comfortably boring story about teenagers flirting with one another in the woods and relying on their phones.
It also doesn’t help that the lead characters are underwritten. Sean, Sarah, Donnie, and Becky barely have any defining traits or characteristics. Sean is vaguely a Good Guy (TM), while Donnie is vaguely an Incorrigible Rogue (TM) but neither really sticks to any one concept and they’re often interchangeable. As our Becky and Sarah. There’s also a vape-smoking idiot throwing in there somewhere and you guys are not gonna believe this but his name is Chad. The next time someone names a Chad character Chad, they should have their WGA membership revoked.
The best thing that The Package could have done for itself would have been to abandon the teenage angle altogether. It’s clear that the creatives involved have little feel for how modern teenagers speak or think (hint: they don’t reference ‘80s action films twice in under an hour). The romances, the dialogue, and the arcs of these fictional kids add nothing of note to the movie so why package (hehe) this story about a silly, sophomoric thing with silly, sophomoric characters? It likely would have been funnier to see maladjusted adults trying to deal with something so heinous.
The Package does have its moments because…how could it not? With the human characters so underwritten, a lot of the comedic pressure falls to the prosthetic “playing” a severed teenage penis. Thankfully, it’s more than up to the challenge. The frontispiece is a disturbingly lovingly crafted prop that at the very least generates real human emotion when onscreen…even if that emotion is disgust.
Aside from the disassociated dong, The Package is incredibly lean on real laughs. Jeremy is the funniest character despite spending the entirety of the movie in a hospital bed. Perhaps that works in his favor as the journey the rest of the characters are going on is so lifeless and inert that we can just appreciate his increasingly funny desperation. It also certainly doesn’t hurt that Mary Holland stars as a nurse and seemingly the only healthcare professional at this entire hospital. She frequently drops by Jeremy’s bedtime just to taunt him and it’s wonderful.
By the end, however, no amount of severed schlongs or Mary Hollands can rescue The Package from mediocre movie-dom. That doesn’t mean it’s not without value. The Package’s premise is so inherently amusing that the hearing it will undoubtedly make the appropriately childish among us smile for a moment. Just enjoy that smile and move on. Processing that The Package exists for 15-20 seconds is far more valuable than enduring the reality of it for 90 minutes.