There’s nothing wrong with a good dick joke. Some, like HBO’s Silicon Valley, have proven that a perfectly crafted joke about the male genitalia can be masterful. The overall idea of a penis is just kind of inherently funny. Have you seen one? What’s that thing’s deal? No one really knows, much less the people who actually possess one, and since humans first learned to craft language on to the walls of caves by moonlight they have been yucking it up about dicks. But, as the absolute worst dudes on your Twitter feed prove time and time again, the mere physical presence of a dick alone does not make something funny. You gotta’ do something with the dick, you know? And that is where Netflix’s The Package comes in, a film that quite frankly does nothing with the dick. It is the nightclub grinder of films, swinging its dick around for 90 minutes and hoping for the best. Like that scenario, your amusement largely depends on how drunk you got beforehand.
Netflix tried to play coy in its trailer with whether or not this film is actually about a teenager who accidentally gelds himself on a camping trip. Friends, that is in fact what this film is about. Directed by Jake Szymanski from a script by Kevin Burrows and Matt Mider—not to mention produced by Ben Stiller and Workaholics creators Adam Devine, Anders Holm, and Blake Anderson—follows five teenage friends on a camping trip: awkward Sean (Daniel Doheny), his more awkward best friend Donnie (Luke Spencer Roberts), long-haired stoner Jeremy (Eduardo Franco), his sister Becky (Geraldine Viswanathan), and Donnie’s ex-girlfriend Sarah (Sadie Calvano). One drunken swing of a switch-blade later, and Jeremy’s privates are soaring into a nearby patch of bushes. A medevac whisks him away, but carrying the wrong cooler, leaving the four remaining friends to embark on a cliff-diving, car-chasing odyssey to return their companion’s prized possession in one piece.
It’s a shame the script doesn’t put more effort into this premise—admittedly bordering on a type of gross-out genius, I’ll admit that—because this young cast has spirit, man. There’s a real heart to every non-dick-related aspect of this movie. The pre-slice portion hums with the energy that surrounds that part of your life when both condoms and booze are embarrassingly bought, and that’s largely on the cast. I’d be okay with these kids dominating the teen comedy scene going forward like The Breakfast Club crew did in the 80’s and the American Pie gang did for a spell after 1999. Doheny—who already seems to be Netflix’s go-to stutterer after he already starred in Alex Strangelove—is downright peak Cera-like in his fumbling charm. Viswanathan—so great in surprise summer triumph Blockers—has a knife-edged sense of timing that makes her Doheny’s perfect foil.
Franco, the owner of the titular Package, is a stoner superstar in the making. (Maybe it just comes with that last name?) Anyone who caught Netflix’s American Vandal—funny enough, a masterclass in how to tell an extended dick joke—knows Franco is funny, but he almost steals this entire movie from a hospital bed. The Package is actually funnier when it cuts away from the main adventure and checks in on the wounded Jeremy and his triage nurse (Mary Holland, always hilarious). The stuff there is much weirder, more surreal; there’s a great running joke about Jeremy believing the fate of his severed pal is tied to the wilting flower on his bedside desk, like the prince from Beauty and the Beast.
But again, the script largely pushes aside things like character chemistry and cleverness in favor of the idea that a dick, in any scenario, will be funnier than any actual writing. Even as the action escalates—and it does, admirably—the joke stays the same. The dick is in a cooler. The dick fell in a lake. The dick got bit by a snake. There are only so many ways to say that if you think loving shots of a wonderfully crafted fake penis are funny, I cannot possibly recommend this movie to you enough. You will weep.
Actually, there is one line that is so surprisingly funny that I had to go back and see if I heard it right. A camo-wearing roadside store owner, who offers to respectfully wash the severed member because he falsely believes the teens are veterans, grows enraged when he discovers they are not actually in the Army. Because of the scenario, and the character, and honestly just the one-note-edness of the entire rest of the movie, you’re lured into thinking this character’s anger comes from a homophobic place. But, threateningly cocking a bow into an arrow, the store owner growls “The only dicks that I touch are mine and my husband’s.”
It is the only time in the entire movie that the script tries to subvert expectations, to tell any kind of joke that isn’t surface-level. The rest of The Package, for better or worse, is exactly as advertised throughout its runtime, a show-er that could have been a grow-er.