'The Kings of Summer' review: Sometimes fest audiences can't be trusted

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'The Kings of Summer'

'The Kings of Summer' (June 5, 2013)

*1/2 (out of four)

With all due respect to “The Kings of Summer” co-stars Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally and Alison Brie: What were you thinking?

I like a good coming-of-age story as much as anyone, but this inexplicable Sundance hit (which also features brief appearances from Hannibal Buress and Tony Hale) deserves a time-out, not an allowance boost. I mean, multiple jokes act as if racism’s hilarious, and there’s a gag in which the film’s most excruciating character says he thinks he’s gay because his lungs fill with fluid as seasons change … only to be corrected by the hero, who says, no, that’s cystic fibrosis.

Hilarious stuff, clearly.

Poorly acted and directed, “The Kings of Summer” relies primarily on cliché while trying way too hard for laughs. The film is about the exploits of 15-year-old best pals Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso of “Super 8”) as they revolt against their irritating parents and build a house in the woods to secretly spend the summer. For incomprehensible reasons, they allow a miniature nuisance named Biaggio (Moises Arias, unbearable), who says things like “I don’t really see myself as having a gender,” to tag along and join their little forest club.

The pursuits of young boys to become young men frequently have merit, and first-time feature writer Chris Galletta doesn’t make too much out of the building of the house or its maintenance. (I did wonder about the whole plumbing issue, though.) The movie’s just such a pain in the ass. That’s whether stealing the notion of parents who can’t remember the name of celebs or their movies from “Saturday Night Live”--Patrick’s mom, played by Mullally, thinks Will Smith in “Hancock” is actually Will Prince in “Heimlich”--or delivering a contrived (figurative) knife in the back of one of the guys for cheap dramatic purposes.

Not surprisingly, Kelly (Erin Moriarty), who always seems extremely interested in Joe, starts out with an older jackass of a boyfriend who quickly vanishes. It’s not necessarily formulaic that Joe’s sister (Brie) dates a total doofus (Eugene Cordero) or that Joe’s dad (Offerman) freezes out his son as a way of coping with his wife’s death. It’s just bad, bad writing. 

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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