This R-rated tween comedy wisely hinges on the notion that these boys are still innocent enough to gag on a sip of beer or be grossed-out by porn.
The precocious kid brother of Superbad, Gene Stupnitsky’s Good Boys offers a mixed bag of benign vulgarity, amusing zingers and painfully strained jokes that just don’t land. Produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the film’s script sorely lacks that comedic writing duo’s sharp wit, even though Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg’s story borrows heavily from Superbad’s concept of young men pulling out all the stops to get to a party and win the affections of a dream girl. The conceit that, instead of the usual awkward high school seniors, these zany escapades involve a trio of naïve sixth graders is quickly driven into the ground. The majority of the film’s jokes revolve around the self-proclaimed “bean bag boys” getting themselves into semi-sordid situations they don’t fully understand, a running joke that barely stops short of the boys pulling a reverse-Murtaugh and blurting out “I’m too young for this shit.”
The hijinks are set into motion by Max (Jacob Tremblay), whose emerging puberty manifests in the admitted urge to “rub up against a tree all the time,” and in crushing hard on shy classmate Brixlee (Millie Davis). When Max unexpectedly scores invites from a cool kid to a “kissing party,” and secures the go-ahead to bring along his uncool pals—the self-conscious show choir star Thor (Brady Noon) and strait-laced nerd Lucas (Keith L. Williams)—he steals (and promptly demolishes) his dad’s work drone in order to spy on a teen couple next door to learn a trick or two about how to effectively smooch. This sets off a chain of events that involve the boys scrambling to replace the destroyed drone by replacing some teen girls’ molly by holding up a frat-bro drug dealer by paintball gunpoint—and so on. We’ve seen this madcap formula played out repeatedly over the past dozen or so years and the only things that really make or break this kind of picture are the script and the rapport of its leads. Good Boys gets it about half right.
Max, Thor and Lucas make for compelling, lived-in characters, even if the coming-of-age trope eventually requires a maudlin turn as, much like in Superbad, the once-inseparable boys fret about growing apart. But Good Boys falters in its writing, which is not without its offbeat charms but frequently features joke delivery that feels forced and fails to keep the viewer as off-balance as in the best of its Apatowian elders. Too often, a joke simply centers on the boys misunderstanding words. Lines like “I can’t be a misogynist; I’ve never even given a massage!” or an ostracized boy fearing he’ll become a “social piranha” land with a thud. The boys confuse a bevy of sex toys for an arsenal of weapons. They confuse the drug molly for a girl named Molly. They posit that tampons are used to keep babies from falling out of girls’ butts. You get the idea.
There’s a sweetness present in some of these misunderstandings, as this R-rated tween comedy wisely hinges on the notion that these boys are still innocent enough to gag on a sip of beer or be grossed-out by porn. In some ways, this is a welcome subversion of the film’s somewhat cringey marketing as sixth graders gone wild. But the film turns mawkish in its third act, shifting its tone to wistful sentimentality about the inevitability of growing pains, an approach we’ve seen innumerable times before, which results in a comedic romp that just doesn’t resonate when offering jokes this hit-and-miss.