It doesn’t help that, by the time the song blared onto the soundtrack of Gene Stupnitsky’s Good Boys, the film was already beyond redemption but I still nearly threw my hands in the air in the theater and shouted, “For Christ’s sake, can we stop using DJ Shadow’s ‘Nobody Speak’ in movies and television shows?!” Then again, maybe the umpteenth employment of the song in the past three years is fitting for Good Boys, a movie that is superficially novel but does and says nothing original.
Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams and Brady Noon plays sixth graders and best friends Max, Lucas and Thor. When they find themselves unexpectedly invited to a cool classmate’s “kissing party,” the three straitlaced boys are suddenly willing to break a lot of rules to make sure they make it on time and ready for action.
Producer Seth Rogen came up in the Judd Apatow school and seems intent on carrying the torch for that filmmaker’s mid-2000s movies, raunchy and juvenile on the outside but with a gooey center made of pure traditional values. Good Boys sees its tween leads cussing up a storm, obsessing over sex and, in one of the funnier sequences, buying drugs at a frathouse. But Stupnitsky never lets you forget the movie’s title is not ironic; there’s never any threat of real moral subversion because these are such reassuringly sweet-natured kids.
All that Good Boys really requires of Tremblay, Williams and Noon for their performances to work is that they be game. In that regard, they are a success. But it’s a shame, given that the film is about middle school children, that the funniest turns comes from the adults–like Will Forte, Retta and Lil Rel Howery–or, in the actual best performances in the movie, from Midori Francis and Booksmart‘s Molly Gordon as neighborhood teens.
It’s likely our core three cast members could have been truly good in the movie if the screenplay (by Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg) believed in them as characters. But they are nothing more than comedic devices. They are innocent until the movie requires them to be more worldly. Or, to be specific, they don’t know what a dildo is until a joke needs them to use the world “dildo.”
It’s hard to imagine that Stupnitsky would even disagree with my assessment, as he treats the entire affair as nothing more than a chance to exhaust all the most obvious gags the premise offers. He and Eisenberg are too enamored of their own cuteness to uncover anything more–in laughter, in character or in insight–than could be found in a Funny or Die parody trailer. Those tend to be far shorter than 90 minutes, though.