Already this year we’ve seen the Superbad formula – best friends desperate to score before they graduate from high school – winningly gender-flipped in Booksmart. In Good Boys, director Gene Stupnitsky and his writing partner Lee Eisenberg (Year One, Bad Teacher) attempt to pull off the same trick. Only this time, you know, with kids.
It’s a simple enough conceit that yields rib-tickling rewards in a comedy in which Jonah Hill and Michael Cera’s eagerness to get laid is supplanted by an altogether more innocent desire to get to first base. This being a Seth Rogen production, though, getting there is anything but innocent. Indeed, it’s a journey steeped in so much filth, profanity and raunch that none of its three leads are permitted to watch the picture legally – a double standard that Universal has been making great hay of in its pre-release advertising. Yet there is a guilelessness at work in Good Boys that offsets all its sex toys, dirty talk and recreational drug use.
Tween buddies Max (Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon) and Lucas (Keith L. Williams) – 12-year-old school chums who endearingly call themselves “The Bean Bag Boys” – may be obsessed with boobs, masturbation and, in Max’s case, locking lips with the cutest girl in class. But they are just as consumed by D&D gaming, drama club and being accepted by the cool kids – even if it means being dared to take a swig from a beer bottle and earning the damning sobriquet “Sippy Cup” if one gags or refuses.
Our heroes, in short, are nerdy naïfs who are prone to tears, respectful of rules and generally rather clueless. So when an urgent need to replace one dad’s downed drone has them stealing MDMA from the babes next door, dicing with frat boys or risking their necks crossing a six-lane highway, the results are inevitably chaotic – a cavalcade of wacky incident that ought to generate hilarity by the bucketload. Sadly though, Good Boys really only has one joke: the inappropriate juxtaposition of children with the kinds of things (bad language, giant dildos, anal beads) they’re meant to be kept away from.
There’s plenty of raucous, knockabout fun to be had seeing Tremblay wield a paint gun, Williams dislocate an arm and Noon stuff a beer down his pants. But it all comes down to the same, recycled, R-rated punchline: one that becomes not only less funny but also more predictable the further the film goes on. That’s not the fault of its central trio, who have a natural rapport and a fresh-faced charm that are impossible to resist. It’s more a failing of a production whose adolescent sense of humour smacks of arrested development and which doesn’t really earn the right to take a half-hearted pitch at pathos in its lachrymose closing stages.
When it’s good, though – during a fast-paced chase scene, for example, in which one of the girls they’ve stolen drugs from goes all Terminator on the little guys’ asses – Good Boys is very good indeed. And there are some nice turns from the grown-ups in the cast as well. Get Out’s Lil Rel Howery and comedian Retta make an impression as Lucas’ parents, and there’s the spectacular sight of Stephen Merchant going full weirdo as a geek with a goatee.