Film & TV

Good Boys Celebrates the Corruption of Innocence

From left: Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon, and Keith L. Williams in Good Boys (Universal Pictures)
It’s Freaks and Geeks for pre-teens.

‘Immaturity Sells.” That’s the new marketing tenet, second to the proverbial “Sex Sells.” Good Boys combines the two truisms in an extended anecdote about three foul-mouthed sixth-graders, Max (Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon), and Lucas (Keith L. Williams). These eleven-year-olds are already rebels who call their gang “The Bean Bag Boys.” They break school and parental rules and steal a bottle of the recreational drug Molly from older teens, all in their effort to attend a kissing party.

This rush-to-perdition premise is only interesting as the latest raunchy comedy from actor Seth Rogen and his producing partner Evan Goldberg (Knocked Up, Superbad, Sausage Party, Blocked). Overgrown Bean Bag Boys (insert flatulence joke) themselves, the duo specializes in congratulating adolescent bad taste. Their stench comes out of the Judd Apatow factory where the Immaturity and Sex tenets were first developed on the TV series Freaks and Geeks, a key to advancing Millennial narcissism.

Good Boys is a step down from Freaks and Geeks and Superbad (the latter recently celebrated in a Times lifestyles piece), differing mainly in the title’s half-baked profession of innocence. Max, Thor, and Lucas talk like the most obnoxious children (“We’re not kids, we’re tweens!”). Actually, they’re the worst example of media brats — pop-culture sponges who can’t comprehend the meaning of what they soak up from Fake News and Public Service Announcements, which amount to the same thing thanks to the media’s social engineering.

That’s the film’s conceit, revealed as writer-director Gene Stupnitsky and co-screenwriter Lee Eisenberg listlessly present the boys’ run-on malaprop gags, especially by flaunting the outrageousness of children dropping the F-bomb, eagerly imitating teenagers who are titillated by hip-hop obscenities. Yet these tweens are also confused by the culture’s mixed messages. (“You should never call a woman a ‘skank’!”) The irony — or hypocrisy — starts with smut-peddlers Stupnitsky, Eisenberg, Rogen, and Goldberg always trading on immaturity and irresponsibility. (They also shamelessly steal from Eddie Murphy’s hilarious highway sprint in Bowfinger, betting on the audience’s cultural ignorance.)

These Hollywood hipsters have the gall to sentimentalize their impudence: The Bean Bag Boys are ethnically diverse, like an Animaniacs version of the Freaks and Geeks cast; they’re intimidated by bullying; sensitive to the specter of parental divorce; and constantly perplexed by influences they don’t understand. The film begins with a choice anachronism: As Max prepares for a moment of juvenile self-abuse, the soundtrack blasts Chakacha’s 1970 soft-core moaning disco “Jungle Fever” then shifts to modern trap music, Lil Pump’s “Multi Millionaire.”

Two eras of pop profanity are presented as a continuum. That’s not a profound juxtaposition — or even an observation that the filmmakers appreciate — but it’s the closest the film gets to offering an insight on immaturity, sex, and the national dilemma of cultural neglect. The makers of Good Boys misunderstand the depravity in which they participate, yet the film itself humble-brags about corrupted innocence. Thor’s final school pageant performance of “I Want To Know What Love Is,” intended to express his sense of growing apart, is the single most mawkish and dishonest movie ending so far this year.

Armond White, a film critic, writes about movies for National Review and is the author of New Position: The Prince Chronicles.

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