Good Boys is torn between two opposites. On one hand, Good Boys attempts to be Superbad for preteens, as advertised by the over-reliance on name dropping Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg as producers. But on the other hand, Good Boys focuses on a trio of innocent, misunderstood kids on an adventure to gradually growing up. As Will Forte says to his son, Max (Jacob Tremblay), he has a cherubic face, but there’s a devil underneath. But is there, really? Has anyone ever looked at Tremblay and thought, “there’s an evil being inside of that adorable child?” Probably not, which is why Good Boys never quite seals the deal on its younger Superbad aesthetic.
Max and his two best friends Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and Thor (Brady Noon) call themselves The Bean Bag Boys, because, you guessed it, they have bean bag chairs. They’re just starting middle school, and it’s clear their friendship since kindergarten is already starting to splinter. Max is being called over to the cool kid’s table, and he’s the first one of their group to have a crush. Thor, meanwhile, wants to look like a badass to the school’s rebel group, but deep down, he really just wants to sing in his school’s adaptation of Rock of Ages. Lucas, whose parents are getting divorced, is all about following rules and keeping things together as his world falls apart. When Max is invited to his first kissing party, the three try to learn how to kiss, which leads them on a journey that involves getting their drone stolen, selling prized possessions to potential pedophiles, and buying molly from a fraternity.
Most of Good Boys’ humor falls into the same territory that was mined over two decades ago. Most of the jokes that writer/director Gene Stupnitsky and co-writer Lee Eisenberg concoct for The Bean Bag Boys involve them saying “fuck” a lot, confusing sex toys for weapons or actual toys, and misunderstanding common phrases and words. When one of the kids calls Max a misogynist, he proclaims, “I’ve never massaged anyone!”
But primarily, Good Boys is at its funniest with the absurdity of its own situations. When the kids possess some MDMA, they immediately worry that the original owners are junkies and attempt to give the drugs to a fire station. Drinking more than three sips of a single beer is a rite of passage, and anything more than four makes the drinker an alcoholic. This type of kid logic is far funnier than just hearing kids swear.
Which is maybe the most unbelievable aspect of Good Boys. These kids, are in fact, supposed to be seen as “good boys.” They follow the rules and they worry about losing their parent’s love if they’re too bad. Would these be the kids dropping f-bombs liberally as they try to learn something so innocent as kissing? Regardless, it never quite feels natural coming out of the mouths of these three middle schoolers.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the standout in this group is Tremblay, whose innocence is a benefit for many of Eisenberg and Stupnitsky’s jokes. Even the most generic jokes are given a solid delivery, thanks to Tremblay’s chops. Williams is also quite good, as the kid who is easily the most angelic of the three, and his deadpan deliveries make for some of the film’s best moments. But it’s Noon who doesn’t quite work as well as the other two. He’s the emotional core, but his attempt to be a bad boy, with his spiked hair and sleeveless shirts, is more annoying than funny.
Good Boys isn’t exactly the younger Superbad as advertised. The jokes are staler, and the heart of the film only works intermittently, usually when centered around the three boys pulling apart. But the scenarios that Eisenberg and Stupnitsky put these three angelic children into – and Tremblay’s ability to sell any material – makes Good Boys a decent late summer comedy in a season that has been severely lacking in them.