One homework assignment leads to a whole education for three boys and their parents in Pierre Boutron’s mild-mannered comedy “Men Will Be Boys.” This leisurely variation on “Big” has offspring and progenitors switching places with literally mixed results. Exceptionally well-meaning but ultimately tiresome effort is innocuous and family-friendly TV fare distinguished by a few uncanny perfs from the moppet contingent. Kidfests may also nibble.
Imposing and humorless French teacher Albert Crastaing (Jean-Louis Richard) punishes three of his 12-year-old charges by assigning them to write an essay based on the Kafka-like premise of waking one morning to find themselves transformed into adults and their parents shrunk into children. Joseph, a Jew whose father is a beleaguered and ornery tailor (Pierre Arditi); Igor, a Catholic whose musician father (Francois Morel) died recently from an AIDS-tainted blood transfusion; and Nouredine, a French-born Arab whose taciturn dad (Zinedine Soualem) is a talented artist reduced to driving a cab, turn into dead ringers for their fathers as soon as they fulfill the assignment.
Aggressively multicultural bid for intergenerational tolerance displays genuine feeling for the run-down charms of the protags’ funky Paris neighborhood as the erstwhile youngsters explore the world of adults. But the kids, abruptly aged by 30 years, never truly come across as being in the predicament they’re meant to represent. Settling for a very casual level of invention, story takes an idea and milks it, but little cream rises to the top. Catherine Jacob provides welcome energy as a wholesome hooker who befriends the trio.
A rare clever scene involves fooling a process server who has come to seize Arditi’s possessions because rent is in arrears. Script also takes an admirable stab at pointing up the consequences of a much-publicized blood scandal that, through government misjudgment, contaminated many hemophiliacs with HIV-infected plasma.