Taran Killam, while undeniably talented, has always struck a wrong chord for me on “SNL.” His broad theatricality often suggests an overgrown drama kid, pleading for laughs with an overly affected shoutiness that shines in certain roles (like his vicious 19th-century critic Jebediah Atkinson) but more often comes off as over-the-top and slightly desperate. (Killam was a child actor on Nickelodeon’s “The Amanda Show,” suggesting he hasn’t quite shaken the try-hard style of children’s television.) If “Brother Nature,” in which Killam plays one of those priggish stuffed-shirts whose stick-in-the-mud-itude blinds him to the free-spirited charm of a boorish goofball (played by Bobby Moynihan), doesn’t exactly play to his strengths—he is essentially a straight man suffering a series of escalating humiliations—it doesn’t require him to be particularly likable either. Mostly, he just registers looks of shock in varying stages of apoplexy.
The film, which Killam co-wrote along with Mikey Day, is an overly familiar mix of “Meet the Parents” and “What About Bob?,” in which Killam’s normie political operative travels to his girlfriend’s (Gillian Jacobs) family’s cabin on the lake to meet her parents (Bill Pullman and Rita Wilson) for the first time, as well as her sister’s boyfriend Todd (Moynihan), whose overly ingratiating persona and constantly-turned-to-11 approach to life have made him consider Roger his best friend before the two have even met. Because this is a formulaic Hollywood comedy, there are a number of tedious plot complications—just before leaving on the trip, Roger gets an opportunity to run for Congress; he has also decided to use this trip as an opportunity to propose to his girlfriend; naturally, neither of these goes to plan.
Mostly, “Brother Nature” is a showcase for Moynihan, whose comic clownishly gregarious performance—partially modeled, it seems, on his Guy Fieri impression—is hilariously balanced between fun and exhausting. You can see why Roger hates him, while at the same time believing that everyone else in the movie loves him. Great “SNL” utility player that he is, Moynihan has a penchant for unexpected line readings that can draw laughs even out of tired material. And, make no mistake, the material here is pretty tired. The film it as its best when it goes into lightly surreal territory—such as weirdly violent gag involving a beloved fish—but it more often falls back on well-worn tropes and situations—over-the-top set pieces, Stillerian comedy of embarrassment, a crotch shot.
Still, even when it’s not that funny, “Brother Nature” is still breezily watchable thanks to its deep-bench cast, which includes appearances from Kenan Thompson, David Wain, Sarah Burns, Aidy Bryant, Kumail Nanjiani, and more. Nanjiani in particular shines in what could be a place-filler of a part as Roger’s right-hand man. The same goes for Jacobs as Roger’s girlfriend; she doesn’t have a whole lot to work with, but she nonetheless wrings a few laughs out of the kind of role that is typically shunted aside in this kind of movie.
After the Congressman he works for (played by Giancarlo Esposito) decides to retire, Roger decides to run for his seat. It speaks to the extremely low-stakes nature of the story that this plot point exists solely to provide the movie with an excuse for a live-TV setup which Todd can then ruin. It makes no other impact on the film, and, in fact, Roger losing the election is brushed off briefly in a single line of dialogue. All of which is to say that “Brother Nature” is not exactly tightly-plotted farce, but, as an hour and a half of mildly amusing gags, it’s certainly no worse than your average episode of “SNL.”