Brit sitcom “The Inbetweeners,” which tracked the travails of four male misfits in their last years at high school, makes a satisfying leap to the bigscreen in summer holiday adventure “The Inbetweeners Movie.” A characteristically British, excessively drunken twist on the “American Pie” formula of sexual misadventure, adolescent male friendship and bodily fluids, pic will easily recoup its modest production coin on home turf, with boffo box office (it grossed $4.2 million its first day) preceding even bigger ancillary returns. How it will fare elsewhere is a headscratcher, although at worst it should appeal to fans of warped British comedy.
As in the TV show, brainy, socially awkward Will (Simon Bird) has been accepted into the gang of relatively well-adjusted Simon (Joe Thomas), sex-obsessed serial liar Jay (James Buckley) and guileless, is-he-really-that-stupid Neil (Blake Harrison). Post-high school, the glue that has kept this unlikely quartet together seems about to come unstuck, but not before they enjoy a testosterone-fueled holiday in the Aegean party town of Malia, Crete.
Also present in Malia is Carli (Emily Head), the girl who served as Simon’s romantic obsession for all three seasons of the sitcom, and who he’s on holiday to get over (shades of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”). Conveniently, the boys soon meet a quartet of English female vacationers, although obstacles remain: Jay is initially embarrassed at the ample physique of fun-loving Jane (Lydia Rose Bewley), Simon tests the indulgently sweet nature of Lucy (Tamla Kari) with endless ramblings about Carli, and so on. Will, who wittily narrates, is correctly identified as a socially maladroit virgin by out-of-his-league Alison (Laura Haddock), but she warms to his disarming honesty and sly quips. Will is a great asset for scribes and series co-creators Iain Morris and Damon Beesley, providing a flavor of humor that’s distinctive for the genre.
While the fish-out-of-water tale will be best appreciated by the sitcom’s legion of British fans, auds coming to it fresh may struggle to empathize. Jay seems a generically horny, borderline-misogynistic teen, but to appreciate this surprisingly endearing character, it helps to have witnessed the confidence-sapping ribbing by his father (only briefly glimpsed here) over the series’ 18-episode arc. Neil, aka “the thick one,” likewise has depths that were only slowly revealed on the smallscreen, and may not be readily apparent here.
Laughs come fast in the opening stretch, and a scene in which three of the boys dance their way into the girls’ attention is a skillfully performed highlight. Pacing problems set in with a saggy middle, as the script contrives a major argument between Simon and Jay, splitting the group into two pairs and thus undermining the central dynamic. Handsome, unpleasant antagonist James (Theo James), who has caught Carli’s eye, is dropped in and out of the action at random, and the ending is abrupt.
“The Inbetweeners Movie” is likely to be judged by history as a nimbler small-to-bigscreen transfer than past Brit-scripted feature-length comedies such as “Kevin and Perry Go Large” and “Ali G Indahouse,” but less so than the anarchic “Borat.” Direction from the show’s second- and third-season helmer Ben Palmer is confident, and all jokes are well-edited for laughs. Some of the best gags involve costumes, with Will choosing among three identical-looking pairs of beige chinos for his first big night out on the town, while at one point he’s forced to wear a T-shirt bearing the embarrassing legend “Mr. I F*** Kids.” You won’t see that in “American Pie.”