The only T-shirt missing from Seth Packard’s “HottieBoombaLottie” is the “Vote for Pedro” from “Napoleon Dynamite,” a movie tyro writer-editor-helmer Packard probably viewed countless times before making this first film, about a high school misfit foolishly in love. That the picture is in bright, pop-colored widescreen 35mm, gives off a strong professional sheen and elicits a few laughs isn’t enough to keep it from being a badly miscalculated effort in the end, sure to leave potential buyers with a sour aftertaste. Commercial prospects for the pic in its present form look dim.
After 70 minutes that zip along on a surface of sometimes cleverly staged antics and juvenile humor that seldom, if ever, gets outright gross, the plot’s climax turns on a thoughtless Columbine massacre spoof that renders the film unplayable in any community affected by serious school violence. As such, it would seem a deal-breaker with any domestic distrib. Yet so key is the scene to the overall story that Packard would have to shoot an entirely new sequence as a replacement.
Sticky problem is even stranger coming so late into the film, covering over some lesser problems that pockmark the pic like bad acne.
Ethan (Packard) lives to idolize school hottie Madison Sweet (Shay Williamson), and to manicure his absurd Flock of Seagulls-style ‘do. He’s an unusually toxic lead for a high school comedy, since he’s so pathetic in his efforts to win attention from the popular kids — one of his many T-shirts reads “SINGLE (IF YOU’RE HOT).”
Unlike Jon Heder’s Napoleon Dynamite, Packard’s Ethan has deluded himself into thinking he’s pretty hot stuff, which further undermines this character’s ability to win over an audience — the film’s driving ambition.
Take away Packard’s clear talent for staging and editing some visually striking action scenes (some of them on Ethan’s little moped), and his script is fairly routine stuff. After his inevitable failure to win over Madison, Ethan doesn’t notice his hunky brother Clay (Matthew Webb) has taken Madison as his own g.f. Meanwhile, after Clay frames his brother for school vandalism, Ethan is shipped off by his mom (Pam Eichner) to stay with California cousins Cleo (Lauren McKnight) and Asher (Trace Williamson).
Ethan, again, fails to notice for the longest time that Cleo likes him, a dilemma that could have been sweetly realized in surer hands. McKnight reveals a certain comic goofiness that gives her scenes some bubbly warmth, while Williamson is directed to just be eccentric for no reason. Packard, for his part, clearly enjoys himself in front of the camera.
Pic marks yet another indie made by Mormon filmmakers, though it never makes any specific mention of place or context (while a big deal is made about going to California). Lenser Travis Cline and production designer Bruce Wing play crucial roles in the film’s notable visual design, which sometimes feels like a tip of the cap to Wes Anderson’s carefully conceived, eccentric-filled worlds.