"You got a little trooper in your pooper," says Dr. Yeager (Toby Huss) to befuddled office drone Duncan (Ken Marino) at the start of "Bad Milo!" Groaning about his irritated bowls, Duncan looks about as freaked out to hear the news as anyone would after such an innocuous explanation. And that's before he figures out that the minuscule invader is actually a cannibalistic demon who has manifested in his intestines out of the frustrations he experiences in life, then proceeds to repeatedly escape Duncan's anus and kill off anyone who bothers his host. Let that sink in for a moment, because "Bad Milo!" actually succeeds in spite of its rampant stupidity.
The key to this largely amusing and unapologetically silly gross-out romp is Duncan's continuing astonishment at the grotesque situation he finds himself in. While mercifully spared the physical anguish he experiences, we're more or less right there with him.
Director Jacob Vaughan's sophomore feature finds Duncan seeking help from a zen hypnotist (a joyfully unhinged Peter Stormare) who puts Duncan under and unleashes the critter from his butt. While Milo runs wreaks havoc across town, Duncan learns the name of the game: He's alternatively frustrated with his dead-end job and his pushy mother (Mary Kay Place) who pleads with her son to have a child with his beleaguered wife Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) by embarrassing him at the dinner table. Sarah's a loving spouse who provides Duncan with some respite from the problems surrounding him, but she can't mollify the pains emanating from his bowels for reasons Duncan keeps to himself for a large part of the picture.
But he's got a good reason: When Milo first rears his ugly mug, it's hard to imagine how one could even explain the premise of the movie, much less tell someone about it in real life. A wizened, fang-tooth puppet with yawning puppy dog eyes, Milo's design suggests a demented Gizmo from "Gremlins," with equal dashes of E.T. and Mini Me. He's a cartoonish monster whose presence mainly results in inspired stupid humor than actual fear, but that's enough to give "Bad Milo!" an absurdity that carries it along -- even though its agenda is decidedly more complex.
While the setup is a twisted lark, that doesn't prevent "Bad Milo!" from taking a few well-earned jabs at thematic depth. "Embrace your inner demon" reads the movie's apt tagline, which points to the way its ridiculous scenario actually works in service of fairly astute workplace satire. As Duncan wastes his days away in a bland finance job stuffed into a bathroom cubicle, the good-natured man faces added pressure when his corrupt boss Phil (Patrick Warburton) tasks his lackey with firing countless staffers. Told by his doctor to avoid stress, Duncan finds it everywhere.
By the time he goes to his estranged stoner father (Stephen Root) and tries to make amends -- excusing himself to an outhouse for a private pep talk with his anal invader -- "Bad Milo!" has taken a few cautious steps into character depth without sacrificing the ultimately trivial quality of the situation. With no complex premise a la "The Human Centipede" to keep the crass nature of Duncan's ailment all that intriguing, the scatological humor can only go so far. But the capacity for "Milo" to foreground its human character over his unspeakably nasty situation makes the whole package go down a lot better than one might expect.
In fact, in terms of its graphic imagery, "Bad Milo!" is relatively coy -- and mainly disappoints because it never goes quite far enough. Even so, it holds tight to its gross-out potential and because Duncan has legitimate pathos, the gags actually have purpose beyond their immediate shock value. It's a welcome reminder that, when it has a direction, sick humor is often the best kind.
Criticwire grade: B
HOW WILL IT PLAY? Available now on VOD and opening Friday in New York, "Bad Milo!" may not pull in "Human Centipede"-level returns, but its crazy premise and genre appeal should help perform well in digital markets.