Dare bests truth at each turn in “Cherrybomb,” a zippy if over-schematic teen pic from tyro helmers Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn. With “Harry Potter” redhead Rupert Grint in the lead and its Euro-cool packaging, this Belfast-set story of two 15-year-old pals in lust with the same teenage sex bomb should have no problems pulling young adolescents. However, older auds may be turned off by the pic’s iffy morality and laid-back attitude towards sex, drugs and booze, which could also lead to a rating problem with a capital R Stateside.
Michelle (Kimberley Nixon) has just moved back to Belfast from London to rejoin her divorced father (James Nesbitt), a manager at the ominously named Titanic Leisureplex. Brainy and affable Malachy (Grint) does reception duty there and, when he first spies the blonde stunner, he’s smitten.
However, Malachy’s too-cool-for-school buddy, Luke (Robert Sheehan), is just as impressed with Michelle, and the precocious minx slyly sets the two friends against one another in a bid for her affections. Boys being boys, they willingly try to outdo each other.
Though the plot can be reduced to a simple battle for sexual access, and the pic’s rhythm and climax are dictated by each boy’s need to surpass his rival’s previous dare, the rookie helmers and screenwriter Daragh Carville (“Middletown”) provide enough window dressing to keep most auds entertained. But underneath the laughs, tension and tears, the psychology doesn’t go much deeper than the idea that these kids are compensating for a lack of attention.
Characters are basically variations on stereotypes. Malachy is a straight-A student from a loving family whose boredom quells his innate sense of responsibility. By contrast, Luke comes from a broken home — his brother a dealer, his father a suicidal drunkard — and hides his unhappiness beneath teenage bravado and a mop of black rebel curls.
Seeing Grint do a love scene and discussing a girl going down on him are a stretch after the largely asexual world of “Harry Potter”; his casting as the dweeb sidekick of the lankier and altogether more handsome Sheehan is more in type. The two thesps show a palpable camaraderie, and Sheehan shines in the flashier role. Even Nixon, whose role on paper is that of an essentially evil blonde, has a spunky presence and infectious cheeriness.
Though the Belfast setting is startlingly anonymous, the visuals are strong. Flashily filmed and edited final scenes at the Leisureplex are a logical conclusion to what has come before, even if some may be taken aback at how the pic seems to use friendship as an excuse for criminal behavior.
Hazel Webb-Crozier’s costumes rep the strongest tech credit. Nixon’s duds evoke those of a 21st-century Barbie, while Sheehan’s brand of cool is underpinned by an endless supply of tight pants, dandy jackets, vintage T-shirts and groovy sneakers.