The school year hasn't gone well -- assignments missed, opportunities to ask out that "special girl" botched. And for Joe Toy ( Nick Robinson), the summer ahead doesn't look much better.
He shares a house with his had-enough-of-your-nonsense widowed dad ( Nick Offerman), a guy who inspires fear -- and sarcasm.
Joe wrecks Dad's dates, Dad curses Joe out for all those peccadilloes that "aren't cute anymore."
Joe's pal Patrick ( Gabriel Basso) is a nervous wreck, dealing with smothering, overly attentive parents ( Megan Mullally is his hilarious mom) and his own dread of the summer to come.
So Patrick is down with Joe's craziest idea -- running away from home, building a shack in the woods, and "living off the land." With their crazy hanger-on not-quite-pal Biaggio ( Moises Arias), they have found a remote spot where nobody'll find them -- but a spot not so remote that there isn't a Boston Market close by, should living off the land not work out.
If they don't starve or run out of cash, if their parents or the cops or the community-wide search parties don't find them, they'll be "The Kings of Summer," masters of their fate and their domain. Won't all the other kids be jealous?
A TV writer and an online Funny or Die vet concocted this amusing, sentimental "Superbad" with less edge, a teen boys' fantasy, roughing it, impressing the girls and coming of age.
The leads are pleasant enough. Arias goes way out there for laughs as the clumsy, daffy shouldn't-play-with-sharp-objects Biaggio. But the adults all but steal the show from the kids here. Offerman gives Joe's dad an acerbic ticking-time-bomb quality. You never know when he'll blow -- at the kid, the cops who can't find the kid, or the doofus delivering wonton soup that doesn't meet with his approval. Mullally (Offerman's real-life wife) plays against type as a goody two-shoes mom who have never heard a cross word from her kid, and wouldn't tolerate it if she did.
For an R-rated teen comedy, "Kings of Summer" is an awfully nostalgic one, with old fashioned comic rituals (the boys take an oath to each other, they turn an abandoned pipeline into a percussion instrument), an "Our Gang" / "Andy Griffith Show" style kids' construction project and parents who have the same problems as their kids, but eventually realize it.
"Now, it's just the two of us," Joe's dad confesses at one point. "I'm afraid I broke him."
"Kings" adds up to a summer movie that staggers down that fine line between sentimental and snarky, a tale of nature and nurture and first love that manages more charm than any R-rated movie about horny teens has a right to.
THE KINGS OF SUMMER
Cast: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Erin Moriarty, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, written by Chris Galletta. A CBS Films release.
Running time: 1:33
MPAA rating: R for language and some teen drinking
Photo/Video credit: Toy's House Productions LLC