Those who find joy in 11-year-olds dropping the F-bomb, and otherwise talking smack they really don’t understand, will be in hysterics for the full hour and a half of “Good Boys.” Anyone looking for a little more in the way of comic inspiration is likely to be disappointed by this mediocre comedy from director Gene Stupnitsky and co-writer Lee Eisenberg.
It’s billed as, “From the guys who brought you ‘Superbad,’ ‘Neighbors’ and ’Sausage Party’” — but those guys are the producers. While Eisenberg and Stupnitsky did both work on the U.S. version of “The Office,” their prior big-screen credits are limited to “Bad Teacher” and “Year One,” two movies even undiscriminating “Sausage Party” fans may not recall all that fondly.
A little too imitative of “Superbad,” with the minor tweaks of three (rather than two) even-younger male protagonists, more swearing, and a lot more drug references, “Good Boys” lacks that film’s wit and heart. It’s a lively, slick package, yet crude and obvious at every turn, unlikely to attract either the critical or word-of-mouth favor that might create a sleeper hit for Universal’s planned August release. Shown at SXSW as a “work-in-progress,” it seems likely to have brighter prospects in home formats.
You get a pretty good idea what you’re in for right away, when suburban sixth-grader Max (Jacob Tremblay from “Room” and “Wonder”) is introduced pumping up the boob size on a video-game heroine, then preparing to masturbate — only to be interrupted by dad (a briefly seen Will Forte), who clucks approvingly over junior’s newfound pastime.
Max’s best buds are Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and Thor (Brady Noon). Friends since kindergarten, they comprise the “Bean Bag Boys,” though now that these grade-schoolers have nearly reached junior high, there is concern even that status may not be cool enough. Certainly it isn’t by the standards of sixth grade’s certified coolest boy Soren (Izaac Wang) and his snobbish “squad.” Their sneers are enough to temporarily dissuade talented singer Thor from trying out for the school musical as usual. Lucas is more concerned with his parents’ news: They’ve just announced they’re divorcing, while assuring him “nothing will change” in his life. Max’s pressing issue is his crush on classmate Brixlee (Millie Davis). He hasn’t worked up the courage to actually talk to her yet, but their mutual interest has been noted sufficiently that he gets invited to a “kissing party” at Soren’s where she’s guaranteed to be present.
Kissing is obviously something that must be studied before it’s practiced for the first time. After a couple false leads (including an alarming glimpse of online porn), the boys decide they’ll deploy Max’s dad’s drone to spy on the teenage girls next door, who are sure to be snogging with some guys. The problem is, first, use of this drone has been expressly forbidden, and second, it promptly get seized by the irate high schoolers (Molly Gordon, Midori Francis). Somehow this turns into a mutual theft-and-ransom situation, in which the older girls have the drone and the boys are left holding a purse that happens to contain the girls’ Ecstasy supply.
“Good Boys” is fast-paced and energetic, but its bad-taste humor seldom rises above the pedestrian. Even when the gags aren’t strictly scatological, as in a dangerous dash across a busy highway stretch (hey, gotta get to the mall one way or another) or a paintball skirmish at a frat house, they’re still not very clever. This is the kind of movie where kids fool around with their parents’ sex toys, having no idea what they’re for, and we’re meant to find it hilarious — over and over. Some will no doubt find this material inherently offensive, when the bigger trouble is that it just isn’t very good.
But the film seems convinced that it’s riotous, just as it trusts in the poignance of occasional rote sentimentality over the way that growing up sometimes means growing apart. On both counts, “Good Boys” proves that confidence alone can only go so far when inspiration is lacking. This movie really has nothing to say about kids, save how they might be made maximally humorous in the view of stoned 30-year-olds probably less nostalgic for childhood than for doing beer bongs at the frat house. From different viewpoints, kids acting with some recognizable normalcy are probably more entertaining than this type of weed-y, profane ventriloquizing.
The juvenile performers are fine under the circumstances, and some of their elders manage a droll moment or two. The professional-looking enterprise has a standard bright mainstream-comedy look, and comes complete with the expected soundtrack full of age-inappropriate rock, rap, and funk tracks, like the Chakachas’ raunchy 1971 disco hit “Jungle Fever.”