Cinema Dispatch: Good Boys

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Good Boys and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures

Directed by Gene Stupnitsky

Okay, hear me out.  What if we took a movie… but remade it with kids!?  WHY HASN’T ANYONE THOUGHT OF THIS BEFORE!?  Heck, let’s go ahead and add a baby to a sitcom!  THAT’LL blow some people’s minds, I tell you what!  Okay, so a bunch of kids doing things they shouldn’t be doing on screen isn’t the MOST unique premise out there, but then neither is the whole COMING OF AGE narrative that this film along with plenty of other films I love revolve their entire plot around.  Plus, it’s being produced by Seth Rogen which is a good sign in my book as he has a good eye for comedy even when he doesn’t star in the films themselves.  Is this yet another fun raunchy comedy from a creative team that has turned the genre into an art form, or is this a worse idea than Another Bad Creation?  Let’s find out!!

The Beanbag Boys consisting of Max, Thor, and Lucas (Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon, and Keith L Williams) are a trio of friends who are about to enter the scary world of… MIDDLE SCHOOL!  BUM-BUM-BUUUUUUUMM!  Truly the testing ground for all men who will either face the challenge head on or crash and burn in spectacular fashion ; becoming a pariah for all time.  Well at least that’s what they think as their plan is to get in with the COOL kids by sipping beer, NOT auditioning for the school play which Thor was really looking forward to, and going to the KISSING PARTY.  They get the invite at least, but none of them ACTUALLY know how to kiss so they decide the BEST option would to take Max’s dad’s drone and use it to spy on the neighbors Hannah and Lilly (Molly Gordon and Midori Francis) who are college kids and therefore must be making out all the time.  Well circumstances get out of control very quickly as the kids lose the drone which gets destroyed, they end up stealing Hannah and Lilly’s drugs, and they have to make it to the mall to buy a new drone before Max’s dad gets home; all the while STILL not prepared for the KISSING PARTY happening that night!  Can the Beanbag Boys put their heads together and get everything fixed before bedtime?  What toll will this adventure take on them, and can their friendship survive it?  Will they unlock the mysteries of the universe on this treacherous journey!?

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“Oh!  I know this one!  If it bleeds, we can kill it!”     “If WHAT bleeds?”

I’m feeling rather resistant about this movie, and I can’t quite put my finger on why.  I did indeed laugh for most of the movie, and there are a few clever things here and there… but I think it comes down to the gimmick of the movie; the fact that I’m watching a raunchy comedy starring a bunch of kids.  Am I offended?  Oh heck no.  I don’t care that kids are playing around with dildos or swearing like sailors throughout this.  It’s just… I guess I don’t really care about the problems of sixth graders enough to invest in this particular kind of story.  It’s apropos that one of the major character arcs involves a production of Rock of Ages being performed by children since the rest of the movie feels like watching a bunch of people too young to fully understand the material pantomime their way through it for a laugh.  It’s not a BAD movie by any stretch and the kids aren’t bad either with the material they have, but I can’t say that I was in the market for a Kidz Bop version of Superbad even if the end result isn’t as dreadful as the description would imply.

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“THEY COVERED HOTLINE BLING!?  WHY WOULD THEY DO THAT!?”

We’ll start with what’s good about this movie because there is a lot to talk about.  Pretty much everything AROUND the kids was completely top notch and there was a lot of subtle humor peeking out through the edges that I really enjoyed.  The fact that one of the kids is named Thor is never NOT funny, and yet the movie doesn’t call attention to it; it’s just a little bit of insight into this kid’s life which only helps flesh out his arc throughout the movie.  There are other great little moments throughout, particularly reactions from bit characters who see the kids acting entirely foolish, but I won’t spoil them all here as they’re so much fun to see play out.  What’s also fun is the supporting cast which is fantastic across the board.  The two girls chasing them down (Molly Gordon and Midori Francis) are a lot of fun whenever they were on screen and honestly could have carried their own weird little movie all their own, and Stephen Merchant even has a brief cameo that he knocks out of the park.  Lucas’s parents played by Lil Rel Howery and Retta and are going through a divorce right as the movie begins are AMAZING every time they’re on screen which sadly is not nearly as much as I would like, but at least their chemistry with Keith L Williams is spot on and once again is a great part of this movie that only enhances the character’s arc.  Honestly whenever the kids were paired with adult actors the film shines brilliantly and it happens a fair amount of times throughout the movie, so I can’t complain TOO much about the humor when a significant amount of it works.  Whenever it’s focused on just the boys or the other kids however, it just feels like it’s lacking that extra level of… maturity I guess to really sell the jokes.  For the R-Rated nature of these situations to work, they need someone to bounce off of whom will either find the situation just as bizarre as they do or completely undercut their panic with matter of fact grown up attitudes.  The best scene has to be the one with the cop in the convenience store who has no time for any of their shenanigans and the boys just can’t seem to grasp it which is hilarious and self-defeating in the way that only scared children can be.

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“Hey, do we still do Scared Straight?  These kids are REALLY getting on my nerves.”

As for the boys themselves, I thought that Jacob Tremblay and Brady Noon were fine and that Keith L Williams was the standout.  They all have a genuine chemistry and a knack for the comedy they’re given which is good because that’s most of the movie.  The dramatic stuff… well, I’m not about to put it on them because I think the writing feels a bit trite in those scenes, and I’ll admit that any time they’re interacting with other kids their age is when the inexperience starts to show a bit more.  Still, they all have their moments to shine and I think that Keith L Williams in particular has a bright future in comedy.  He’s just so darn good at being utterly vulnerable like a kid that age would actually be, and some of the best scenes in the movie (including that cop scene) work as well as they do because of his pitch perfect performance.  In a movie that wasn’t trying so hard to be R-Rated I think they would have had the right material to back them up, but with what they’re given they at least give it their all; especially with the physical humor.  That fight scene towards the end?  WOW that was great!

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“EAT POOP, FRICK FACE!!”

The big problem underlying this film is that I just couldn’t get behind the gimmick of the movie in the way they clearly wanted me to.  It feels like everyone involved with this were just so giddy about the possibility of making a rated R comedy starring kids, and that ambition caused them to ignore just how uninteresting of an idea that is.  I mean look, South Park has been on the air for how many years?  Stewie Griffin is a baby and he’s killed how many people?  Maybe it’s just me, but seeing real kids doing this raunchy stuff on the big screen has no greater effect on me than watching animated characters do it on my TV because… well, THAT’S HOW MOVIES WORK!  I SO do not care about watching kids drink beer even if it was real which it SO was not, and sure there’s a LITTLE bit of boundary crossing with them playing with dildos, but it’s not enough to make me start giggling uncontrollably or to ruffle my feathers.   But it’s not just the raunchy stuff though, is it?  There’s a coming to age story behind al that R-rated humor, and yet I didn’t feel anything for that either.  I still like Superbad (problematic elements notwithstanding), I though Blockers was hilarious, and Booksmart is one of my favorite movies of the year.  I can still find it in myself to enjoy school kids on an epic adventure in service of a party that ends with them learning more about themselves and growing up along the way, so what’s keeping me from engaging with this one on that same level?  I hate to say it, but it’s GOT to be the age thing.  Movies with kids are fine, but I’m just not interested in the romantic interests of sixth graders and whatever tribulations they overcome just feel small in the grand scheme of things.  At least with movies about the end of high school, there’s a clear demarcation between the past and the future which I can still relate to on some level, but whether or not they’re gonna keep playing Magic the Gathering together or if any of these kids are gonna get to first base (my monocle is popping as we speak!) are just as triumphant to me as… I don’t know, watching someone file their first tax return?  Beating a hard boss in a video game?  I mean sure, I’m glad that they overcame this challenge, but I just don’t have a real connection to it that would make me genuinely happy about seeing it all work out.

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“You know fellas?  I learned something today.”     “You did?  Good, because I’m kinda at a loss.  Everything just blurred together at one point.  Is this what repression is?”     “See?  You DID learn something!”

We’ve had A LOT of bad comedies the last few years, so getting one that tries as hard as this one and nails the humor as much as they do here is worth praising, but is it one of the best movies of the year?  I don’t think so.  I think Booksmart was a lot better in almost every regard and I think that them ACTUALLY being mature is what carried it from just a raunchy teen comedy to a true coming of age story.  The raunch didn’t really work for me here and neither did the coming of age stuff, but there’s still a lot to this movie outside of that and I think they nailed it way better than the gimmick would initially indicate.  Had they not focused so much on getting an R-rating and maybe even go for a hard PG-13 I think they would have had better priorities overall, but we’ve got the movie we’ve got and it’s a fun one if nothing else.  I think it’s worth seeing in the theater, but you don’t have to rush out and see it.  What would REALLY be interesting is if the sequels got progressively less and less raunchy, where the next one is a PG-13 high school movie, and then we get a PG drama when they’re adults!  Huh?  Any takers on that?  Give me a call Universal, and we’ll work something out!

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