Review: ‘RiffRaff’

Pic adds a little realism and relationship depth to the teen sex-comedy genre.

“RiffRaff” adds a little realism and relationship depth to the teen sex-comedy genre. Focusing on youthful lifeguards at Chicago’s North Avenue Beach, this likable pic eschews the form’s usual slapstick and T&A in favor of flavorful, “Clerks”-style scatological banter. Debut feature by writer, helmer and supporting thesp Justen Naughton has self-distribbed to scattered Midwest theaters in recent weeks, and may score more playdates, though the pic’s primary prospects lie in ancillary.

Naughton actually worked his characters’ job in the summer, and observational acuity here lands results equidistant between “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” and “American Pie.”

Libidinous O. Jay (Robert Belushi, treading the kind of genre turf made famous by uncle John) gets university roomie Hughie (Ben Wells) a rookie spot on the city lifeguard squad, which veterans like O. Jay’s ex-g.f., May (Chryssie Whitehead), plus older military-style hardasses Tobey (Naughton) and Bogdanski (Joe Farina), run like a bootcamp — albeit one with boozy nightly parties.O. Jay is a serial seduce-and-abandon type, while Hughie stayed faithful to the two girlfriends he’s had so far. Those differing ethics create conflict when Hughie suddenly becomes involved with sexually experienced May; meanwhile O. Jay meets his match in impatient virgin Maggie (Katie O’Hagan), who has a crush on Hughie. Initial stretch is all about the hookups, but eventually, “RiffRaff” turns into a light drama about sometimes misguided attempts to connect.

Breaking from the usual comfy suburban setting for such stories, the pic features city kids talking in their generation’s profane, hip-hop-culture-dominated lingo. This makes a pretty tough initial impression; it takes some time to perceive the eternal young-adult insecurities and yearnings beneath. To his credit, Naughton doesn’t rig formulaic happy endings for kids still too emotionally immature to overcome their misunderstandings. Still, the overall impact is breezy.

Capable performers really do look their intended age for once. While attractive, they aren’t the central-casting hotties you’d get in a more mainstream or conventional teen comedy.

Tech/design packaging is unimaginative but adequate.



An Orange Chair Prods. release of a Mindlight Films presentation of a Naughty Otter production. Produced by John Otterbacher, David J. Miller. Directed, written by Justen Naughton.


Camera (color, Super 16-to-Blu-ray), Kuba Zelazek; editors, Naughton, John Otterbacher; music supervisor, Joy Tillis; art directors, Justin Lieb, Adri Siriwatt; costume designers, Leigh Anne Bush, Emma Potter; sound, Tom Beach; assistant directors, Charles Leslie, Brennan Madden; casting, Jessica Smucker Falcon. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, Aug. 15, 2009. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 108 MIN.


Chryssie Whitehead, Ben Wells, Robert Belushi, Katie O'Hagan, Sonny Jaramilla, Alissa Bailey, Justen Naughton, Tavares Davis, Kyle Lane, Joe Farina, Courtney Kocak, Sundeep Randhawa, Ricardo Gamboa, Sonia Zamora.
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