Rarely does a coming-of-age movie try on as many hats as “The Kings of Summer,” which starts out as a raunchy teen comedy, slips into nature-epic mode, then adds a romantic triangle and finally finds a comfort zone in family-sitcom land.
Throw in a major character who thinks he’s gay, a venomous snake that provides last-minute tension, plus a couple of comic-relief adults, and you’ve got more plot lines than most directors would dare to handle.
The hero, Joe (Seattle native Nick Robinson), decides to run away from home at the age of 15 in suburban Ohio. He’s joined by his best friend, Patrick (Gabriel Basso), and an eccentric younger kid, Biaggio (Moises Arias). They somehow throw together a shack in the woods, which becomes a lure for the girl Joe worships (Erin Moriarty).
The families of the not-quite-lost boys join with local authorities on kidnap patrol. Determined to live off the land, even if that means skinning small animals to supplement their borrowed pasta and canned goods, the kids manage to maintain their independence for several weeks.
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They’re giddy about their triumph, but geography is not on their side. How long would it take to find this very visible hideout? Even more transparent are the kids’ explanations for escaping (“we make the rules”). Like that shack, Chris Galletta’s script holds together only if you’d buy a Disneyland treehouse as the real thing.
Never quite as funny as it means to be, the movie includes a tastelessly timely episode that stirs memories of recent shooting sprees, plus a couple of wish-fulfillment moments in the same vein.
Still, Robinson helps to keep it grounded, and there’s solid work from a supporting cast that features such creative scene-swipers as Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman as the most prominent “adults” in this adventure.
John Hartl: firstname.lastname@example.org