The Kings Of Summer
The great Wesley Morris has a joke about 'movie powder;' it's what all generic films start with. He says the filmmakers open the pouch, add water, and stir. Here's a sample: "The Kings of Summer" feels like a re-heated bag of Instant-Teen-Movie. The tired tropes have again been stirred up and served up: the indistinctive-yet-charismatic white male lead; the blonde dream girl, first seen with her hair waving in the wind, angelically over-lit; the comic sidekick positioned up as the next McLovin'; the references to John Hughes movies. It may taste sweet, but it's artificial.
But it goes down easy, even if it never feels like a real meal. That's mainly thanks to the cast. Nick Robinson and Gabriel Basso charm as Joe and Patrick, respectively; two boys who run off to the woods and build themselves a makeshift hideaway house to escape their overbearing parents. (They entertain, but anonymously - if it weren't for the sad sack nature Robinson carries through every scene, or for Basso's broad shoulders, you might have had trouble telling them apart.)
Moises Arais somehow manages to not-annoy as the aforementioned McLovin' wannabe, the painfully oblivious Biaggio (his vague ethnicity offers some laughs, and an explanation for his unexplainable sense of honor). Nick Offerman, now-and-forever stealing scenes, plays Joe's single Dad with aplomb. The R-rating allows him the rare opportunity to run blue; he relishes each moment of inflection in every single "fuck you." And Alison Brie ("21 Jump Street"), as Barbie-doll-ethereal as always, plays the object of both boys' affections.
Debuting helmer Jordan Vogt-Roberts just tries his best to match his cast's energy, leaving himself no room to put a stamp on the film. He's into shortcuts, anyway. Need some wannabe-Wes-Anderson-whimsy? Let's go to a YouTube-ready montage of the boys frolicking around with swords and high-power fans. Need to create a romantic interest? Time for a faux-Malik-shot of a beautiful girl lying in a wheat field. Need some third act tension? He's got a snake-bite-ex-machina ready for that occasion.
There's undeniable ingenuity in the concept, and a worthwhile amount of sincere glee in his approach. And the cast, obviously, is game. But he's playing around in between well-defined lines; it's a variation on a well-known tune, not quite an original composition. "The Kings of Summer" never offend, but they can't shake off the smell of mass-production. Call it "Fisher-Price Kingdom."