The Vicious Kind is one of those typical films wherein a curmudgeonly misanthrope with a dysfunctional family learns to embrace humanity again through a forced holiday gathering. You've essentially seen this film before, except that at its center is a rather exemplary performance by Adam Scott.
The film follows Peter Sinclaire (Alex Frost) as he brings his college girlfriend Emma (Brittany Snow) home for Thanksgiving to meet his family — his father Donald (J.K. Simmons) and his brother Caleb (Adam Scott). Caleb gives them a ride to the old homestead, but refuses to join them for the festivities as he and Donald haven't been on speaking terms in years. If you think the source of this feud will be withheld and then dramatically revealed later in the film, you might be on to this movie.
The film plods along, hitting all the typical notes at all the typical times. It opens with Caleb telling Peter that all women are whores, which is, of course, later shown to be the result of both a recent painful breakup and a possible general character defect reluctantly inherited from his father, who also has an uncouth outlook on women. Caleb, who hasn't slept in over a week and has obviously become unmoored, notices that Emma bears more than a slight resemblance to the girl who recently broke his heart. If you think this will lead to uncomfortable romantic entanglements, again, you might be on to this movie.
The good news is that the cast acquit themselves fairly well. J.K. Simmons is given a muddled, problematic role but manages to fashion something interesting out of it. Brittany Snow gives a charming performance with a couple of particularly well-handled scenes, including one at a grocery store. Alex Frost is given little to do in the thankless role of the chump, but comes off endearing enough.
The main show here is Adam Scott. You'll probably recognize him from his numerous supporting roles in films like Step Brothers and Art School Confidential. He's always had a fun screen presence, but has remained one of those actors whose big break seems constantly to evade his grasp. The Vicious Kind certainly proves that he's got what it takes to be a strong leading presence in a film. If only the movie around him were better.