Please Don’t Destroy’s inaugural movie, The Treasure of Foggy Mountain, solidly stretches the trio’s absurdist zig-zag humor into movie-length form.
Author: Orrin Konheim
For their feature film debut as writers and producers, Please Don’t Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain, Ben Marshall, Martin Herlihy, and John Higgins play the same heightened versions of themselves we’ve come to know on Saturday Night Live since 2021: best friends who go all-in on whatever flight of idiocy the sketch leads them into. The question is whether these YouTube era jokesters can sustain a concept through an entire movie. Fortunately, the answer is mostly yes.
For a trio of comedians who made a name for themselves as quarantine comedians and continue to shoot their Saturday Night Live sketches from inside a cramped office, it’s pretty apt that their big screen debut revolves around leaving the confines of the indoors.
Ben (as with their SNL personas, the characters have the same names as the actors) has a father (Conan O’Brien, in an inspired bit of casting) who manages a store called Trout Plus. It’s like a big box sporting goods store, only with indoor archery demonstrations, a live fish pond, and a vertical wind tunnel for in-store skydiving (later used as a Chekov’s gun). Can this please come to existence in real life?
Each of the trio has their own challenges. Ben’s foil is his disapproving father who doesn’t view him as responsible enough to take over the family business. Martin’s girlfriend (Nichole Sakura) gets him on a Jesus kick he’s not sure he’s up for. And poor John is the one who feels he’s getting left behind as his friends grow up. It’s all pretty thin fodder, but it gives the characters some vague terminal point for their respective arcs.
While spending a lonely Friday night at home, John goes down an internet rabbit hole and discovers that a compass he and his two compatriots uncovered as kids might hold the key to a $100 million-dollar treasure. This sets the stage for their titular search. The trio runs into problems with a pair of park rangers who turn into, a screaming rat, and a cult led by one of the previous treasure hunters. Most importantly, the pair must overcome the strain of friendship.
It’s in these sentimental stretches that things tend to slow down to a fault. Please Don’t Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain relies on fast-paced absurdist humor that zigs and zags in unexpected directions. The trio walking around in the woods and debating the nature of their friendship drags down the jokes per minute ratio in a way that takes a while to recover.
Please Don’t Destroy probably assumed they needed to make their character arcs deeper to stretch the running time. It’s a necessary evil for many SNL sketches-turned-movies, but this one might not have needed to lean on these beats. Ben, Martin, and John are not one-note characters bound by a single catch phrase.
On the whole, this isn’t a big detraction. When the plot ramps up in an action-packed third act, the film becomes an impressive merging of action and catharsis, with the laughs picking up at an even more rigorous pace.
The cult figures into the second half of the film significantly. Bowen Yang, often type cast in flamboyantly gay parts (although it could be argued that he joyfully self-typecasts himself that way, since he mostly writes his own roles), gets to show off a new side of himself as a cult leader who veers towards psychotic. The rest of the gallery of rogues (including SNL newbie Chloe Troast) adds some color to the proceedings. It’s a group I can easily spend another half-hour with, which is always a good sign for world-building.
The film also features one of the best gratuitous fight scenes in a comedy in quite some time. It doesn’t top the lethal newscaster brawls of the two Anchorman films, but it’s pretty refreshing to see characters openly admit right before a fight that they have absolutely no idea how to punch their fists.
For a comedic group that might be defined by their youth, it’s refreshing that the needle drops are old-school enough to feel like they have a fluency (full disclosure: I couldn’t identify many of the songs, which is a good sign) in pop-culture tastes to draw from.
The Treasure of Foggy Mountain is likely best if you’ve had exposure to Please Don’t Destroy, and in that sense it’s a bit of an insider’s film. At the same time, I’d have trouble believing that many people wouldn’t find this absurdist trio funny under most conditions.
Please Don’t Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain is now streaming on Peacock.