'Please Don't Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain': A Promising, Yet Scattershot Debut
Please Don't Destroy, the comedy trio who went from posting sketch videos on YouTube to becoming writers and making pre-recorded sketches for Saturday Night Live, seem to be following a similar trajectory to their predecesor, The Lonely Island. Both groups started out making internet videos before working at SNL, and both emerged as unlikely breakouts, garnering a nice online following. Much like how The Lonely Island released a film of their own just two years after being hired at SNL, Please Don't Destroy is continuing to follow their lead by doing the exact same thing. Hot Rod, The Lonely Island's film debut, didn't fare well at the box office, but has since become a beloved cult classic. Time will tell if Please Don't Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain has a similar reputation, but its weird brand of humor and the fact that it is streaming exclusively on Peacock suggests that it could become a bit of an underground artifact. As it stands now, however, its hard for me to see it being appreciated the same way that Hot Rod is. Foggy Mountain, while funny, is a bit disjointed, and loses its momentum from time to time. It's one that might catch on better with a younger generation, but that said, it's not a bad first effort from Please Don't Destroy, and shows some potential from them beyond the short form comedy that gave them their start.
Martin, Ben, and John (Martin Herlihy, Ben Marshall, and John Higgins, respectively) are three best friends and roommates who work together at Trout Plus, a Bass Pro Shops-esque outdoors store. All three of them are dissatisfied with certain aspects of their lives, and long for something more. When the three friends are reminded of a priceless golden bust of Marie Antoinette rumored to be somewhere in the wilderness of Foggy Mountain, they set out to find the treasure and make something of their lives. Along the way, they face obstacles in the form of park rangers, strange beasts, and a mysterious cult, and find their friendship tested in the process.
I hate to keep comparing Please Don't Destroy to The Lonely Island, but the two share so many similarities that its hard not to. However, the differences spell out the reason why this film doesn't quite hit the way that The Lonely Island's films do. With The Lonely Island, all three members have clearly defined personalities, and have a pretty strong focus across all of their work. Please Don't Destroy have a distinct comedic voice, but all three members are barely distinguishable from each other. This isn't too much of an issue in their SNL shorts or their early YouTube sketches, but it is a bit problematic when they are put in a feature length film. They feel so similar to one another that it dulls the comedic texture of the film. We can tell almost exactly how they will act or respond to certain situations all throughout the film, and their characterizations feel a bit two-dimensional as a result. All three of them are funny, and they all get some good laughs in the film, but you can tell that this is their first crack at making a feature length film.
The plot itself is straightforward, which is par for the course for Please Don't Destroy. Their SNL shorts tend to center on a relatively simple situation that gets more out of hand, and slightly absurd as the sketch continues. For example, one of their early shorts sees Rami Malek asking the boys for a treat and acting out when he doesn't get one. One of their more recent sketches involves musician Bad Bunny entering their office dressed as Shrek and demanding that they read a script for new Shrek movie that he wrote. There is a level of absurdity to their work, but it always stays pretty grounded in terms of the tone and the parameters of the sketches themselves. Foggy Mountain fits into a similar category, as it mostly retains the comedic sensibilities of their sketch work, and is rather direct in its execution. It does give the Please Don't Destroy guys a bigger canvas to work in, but its clear that they know their limits. That said, they push at the edges of these limits just enough to make for a fun comedy that shows their strengths nicely. It's honestly a decent strategy for them to hold back in certain areas a little and to only push the envelope here and there as opposed to coming in, guns ablazing and throwing caution to the wind. It's why I can't get too mad at this film because it is ultimately a first attempt at feature-length comedy from Please Don't Destroy, and while it isn't as hilarious or as cohesive as I would like it to be, it still isn't half-bad. Some of the comedy feels like it was lifted from leftover sketch ideas, which isn't a bad thing necessarily, as it is woven into the film rather well. A couple of bits feel kind of shoehorned in, but they don't stick out too badly. Comedy-wise there are more hits than misses, but I still wish it was a bit more consistent. I definitely feel like there is some things here that the three can build on, and if they end up making more films, they may be able to learn from the mistakes they made in this film and grow from them.
The Please Don't Destroy guys are good writers, and they are decent actors in their SNL sketches, but their personalities and acting abilities don't fully translate to this film. As stated above, they don't fully stand apart from each other, which flattens their presence in the film a bit. They're all pretty funny, and there is some good dialogue in here, but the characterization weakens some of the bigger comedic sequences of the film. It doesn't completely tank them, but it does take some of the air out of the film's sails. I'd argue that in terms of pure acting ability, Ben Marshall might be the best of the three, as he feels the most genuine and has a solid screen presence. It also helps that he gets several scenes opposite Conan O'Brien, who plays his dad in the film (and is handily the film's MVP). Marshall and O'Brien are very funny together, and I could have watched a whole film about Marshall trying to get his character's idea of a Hair Salon for Boys (a bit that killed me every time it gets brought up) off the ground and O'Brien co-starring as his disapproving dad. Martin Herlihy is pretty funny all throughout the film, but you can tell he's still a bit green when it comes to acting. He has some great line deliveries here (his reading of "They had a certain je nai se quois" is going to live in my head rent free for a while), but his finest moment comes in the film's big finale where he breaks from the more deadpan persona he typically portrays. I think he still has some figuring out to do in terms of acting, but he is still quite funny here. John Higgins is a bit of a weak link here, but he still has his moments. Higgins is a pretty good straight man, which is a role that is kind of undervalued in the world of comedy. If his character was closer to that archetype in the film, I feel that his performance might have been more successful, but he feels a bit too plain, even in the more ridiculous moments of the film. All things considered, the three are a package deal, and when they are all together, it keeps the film afloat. I do hope they stretch themselves and try new things in the future, but they're a pretty fun group overall and show some serious promise.
As mentioned above, the film's best performance comes from Conan O'Brien, who is absolutely hysterical every time he shows up. O'Brien carries much of the scenes he appears in, and he is a burst of energy that contrasts with the film's more grounded tone. The film knows just when to use him, and although he is gone for large stretches of the film, he makes the moments that include him all the better. The other supporting players are pretty solid as well, although I feel they are a bit underserved. Meg Stalter and X Mayo are quite good as a pair of park rangers who are also seeking the treasure, and Stalter especially is very funny here. She feels a bit more down to earth in this film compared to her usual schtick, but she still gets some good laughs. I like the romance subplot between her and Higgins, but she is honestly at her best in the final stretch of the film, where she gets to do her own thing for much of it. Stalter is a star, and I hope her career continues to thrive. As for Mayo, the film seems to struggle with her character, which is a shame because she is quite funny in all of her scenes. She makes the best of it, but the script lets her down significantly. Bowen Yang, on the other hand, is pretty good, although I'm beginning to see a pattern in all of his performances. While he has taken on many different types of characters over the years, he seems to rest on his laurels and play into his distinct comic persona every single time. Admittedly, he is reliably funny and is a good enough actor to sell this persona every single time, but it is starting to wear thin for me a little. He's perfectly fine in this film, but the character is let down by him just doing a lot of the same stuff once again. I don't dislike Yang, but I would like to see him branch out a little more in the future.
I enjoy Please Don't Destroy's shorts on SNL, and there are some great moments in this film, but it is a bit lacking as a whole. It detours a little in the back half and it is a bit one-note for much of its run-time. Granted, this might something that will appeal more to a slightly younger audience, much like Hot Rod appeal more to my generation. I had fun watching The Treasure of Foggy Mountain, but I just wish that it maintained its momentum and had a little more differentiation in terms of its comedy. Perhaps it will grow on me with time, but I'm slightly disappointed after first viewing. That being said, this is still a promising debut, and I can see a bright future ahead for Please Don't Destroy. If their trajectory continues to mirror The Lonely Island's, they will only improve over time, and will go on to do bigger and better things. In other words, if Please Don't Destroy truly is a Gen-Z Lonely Island, they are only getting started.