BLOCKERS (2017, Kay Cannon)
It’s hard to buy this idea: that three parents would freak out so wildly that their high-school-senior (age 18!) daughters might be having sex on prom night; enough to torch heaven and earth in an attempt to stop them. What, if they’re stopped they can’t just do it the next night? But somehow BLOCKERS mostly overcomes this insipid premise (not to mention shabby, indifferent direction) by sheer force of will — of the actors and the punch-up writers, who stock this thing full of laugh-out-loud jokes.
Ike Barinholtz steps out of his supporting career (having been a great bench player in NEIGHBORS, EASTBOUND & DOWN, and SNATCHED) and wrestles the spotlight here in an ensemble of capable comedians. While John Cena manages to confidently exhibit — and then cast aside — his terrible acting chops while being super hilarious many times over, and Leslie Mann mostly curbs her instincts to overdo every scene, it’s Barinholtz who takes a joke of a character and infuses him with sadness, regret, determination, confusion, and an overflowing genuine adoration for his child. His one sincere monologue gets a jokey punchline, but he doesn’t play it for sarcasm or overacting laughs; he takes it seriously and it pays off about 30 minutes later when he just stands there looking at his daughter.
The teens are impressive too, especially Geraldine Viswanathan as Cena’s gleeful, intelligent daughter with razor-sharp line delivery. But a subplot involving a PINEAPPLE EXPRESS reunion of Gary Cole and Gina Gershon feels shoehorned in, and a bro-standoff involving Cena and a keg of beer is juvenile humor far beneath the movie, coming off as a desperate attempt to lure the teenage ticket buyers. Kay Cannon, the hilarious writer of the PITCH PERFECT movies, is making her debut behind the camera here and the results are sadly familiar to the Apatow school of comic filmmaking: plop the camera down, let actors improv, then hack together the best takes the best you can, continuity and visual creativity be damned. But Apatow movies are funny, and his disciples Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg are too, so the fact that the latter pair produced this makes a lot of sense — ultimately maybe it doesn’t matter that the premise and direction are crap; it’s a delivery device for jokes, and the jokes land hard.