From time to time, a film makes its inspiration so evidently clear that it’s impossible to remove the viewing experience from what birthed it. For Gene Stupnitsky’s Good Boys, it’s clear that Superbad inspired the premise of his film, but instead of teenagers running around town carrying out crazy hijinks, it’s twelve year old children. What’s even more curious is that a competing film at SXSW, Booksmart, also owes a lot to Superbad.
Two films cut from the same loin premiering at the same festival one day apart present opposite ends of the spectrum for what it means to be inspired by a particular film. Booksmart takes its inspiration and exceeds it, while Good Boys tries to rebottle the magic of the 2007 classic to no avail. The resulting film is a drawn out bore that operates under a singular mode of comedy that grows tiresome far too quick.
Bear with me for a few moments as I try to explain this stilted plot. The film tracks three kids Max, Thor, and Lucas (Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon, and Keith L. Wiliams respectively) gallivanting around town trying to recover a drone they took from Max’s dad (Will Forte), a drone they stole so they can spy on teenagers and learn how to kiss for a middle school party. The drone crashes and sets them on a looney adventure based on anything the writers thought was remotely funny on paper. You probably read that synopsis and thought it was overtly trivial and you would be right. It’s such a bad premise that it barely, barely, functions as nothing more than a skeleton for the antics written in.
By sheer circumstance, this coming-of-age tale is made even worse by the fact that I had just finished my second screening of Booksmart. Imagine seeing one of the greatest teen comedies of all time that is destined to become an all time classic, and then immediately seeing a raunchy, child-based comedy that has a near one to one thematic core, but executed to a much worse degree. Clearly, this isn’t a fault on Good Boys, but it makes all its shortcomings more blatantly obvious, especially when the film you are inspired by, Superbad, is evoked better by a fellow festival film. To put it simply, it got outplayed in every way.
What Good Boys lives off is a very narrow brand of comedy. These are kids so half the jokes in the film are based on them doing, saying, or seeing very mature things. The humor then draws from the idea that these children shouldn’t be doing these things in their age group, but oh well, ‘eff it. Kids playing with dildos, dealing drugs, and swearing excessively has potential, POTENTIAL, but this is playing purely to shock and awe instead of something truly funny. Also, when I say narrow brand of comedy, I mean that you should expect this rinsed and repeated several dozen times. When the humor derives from the events in the plot, which is seldom at best, you can see some variety, but don’t expect much.
It doesn’t help that the children are child actors. We’re not talking Kirsten Dunst in Interview with the Vampire here, we’re talking Disney Channel sitcom level acting. It’s gratingly unpleasant after about forty minutes. Everyone is yelling and screaming and I don’t know why. Whether it be overacting or underacting, you’ll find something in here that will make your head ache.
In all, the film isn’t even all that entertaining. It goes without saying that a comedy should be funny, and when that fails, you’re left with a completely rudimentary narrative that doesn’t move the needle in any respect. After the credits rolled, I kinda just sat there and thought, “Damn, I really wish I saw something else at SXSW instead.”