for crude and sexual content, and language throughout, drug content, teen partying, and some graphic nudity
Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, John Cena, Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Indira Viswanathan
Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, Jam
Universal Pictures on
With its sex-related gags and pure raunchiness, Blockers provides enough R-rated humor to satisfy those who are growing tired of the tame PG-13 fare that has thus far populated the 2018 box office. (The film's original title, Cockblockers, was changed for obvious reasons, although the image of a rooster above the word "Blockers" keeps it alive in spirit.) A marriage of a Judd Apatow-influenced sex comedy (featuring Apatow's wife, Leslie Mann) and a hard-R John Hughes knock-off, Blockers takes us into the bedrooms of teenagers and their parents as they negotiate the bumpy road of prom night and all it entails. Although the movie's foremost goal is to deliver big laughs, it gets points for taking seriously the trauma of parents who, after nurturing and caring for their children over an 18-year period, are forced to let go.
When pretty blond prom princess Julie (Kathryn Newton) decides that she's going to lose her virginity to boyfriend Austin (Graham Phillips) after the dancing is done, her two best friends, Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam (Gideon Adlon), come on board. Kayla has set her sights on the laid-back Connor (Miles Robbins) and Sam is stuck with her less-than-dreamy date, Chad (Jimmy Bellinger). What she really wants, however, is to come out of the closet and hook up with her secret crush, the openly lesbian Angelica (Ramona Young). Things seem to be progressing well - an early departure from the chaperoned event to attend a lakeside party - until the parents become involved.
Julie's mom, Lisa (Leslie Mann), learns of her daughter's "sex pact" through a bit of inadvertent snooping. (Warning to teenagers planning to lose it on prom night: don't leave chat windows open on laptops where parents can see them.) With Kayla's dad, Mitchell (John Cena), and Sam's father, Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), in tow, she heads out in pursuit of the kids, seeing herself as the defender of her daughter's hymen. The high school seniors always seem to be a step ahead, however, resulting in Mitchell and Hunter having to do all sorts of demeaning things to keep the chase going.
The teen-oriented portions of Blockers are more engaging than the segments tracking the adults. When the story follows Julie, Kayla, and Sam, it has a distinct Superbad vibe and Sam's struggle with her sexuality is at least as compelling as that of the title character in Love, Simon. Lisa, Mitchell, and Hunter, however, exist primarily to move the plot forward and provide comedic opportunities. They are important to the extent that, without them, the film would lose the element of parents facing their children's emergence from childhood, but the over-20 characters are not well-defined or developed.
The standout adult actor is John Cena, who plays against type as an emotionally vulnerable guy who's prone to breaking into tears at any moment. Cena is game for anything; he reminded me a little of Arnold Schwarzenegger from some of his comedies (Twins and Kindergarten Cop), albeit without the accent. Of the prom-goers, Geraldine Viswanathan caught my attention with her tough-but-saucy approach to a role that's not tremendously well fleshed out. Her performance makes her big scene (opposite Cena) work.
The comedy is along the lines of what we have come to expect from R-rated movies about kids trying to have sex. There's plenty of vulgarity and graphic talk, some nudity (with more male exposure than female), drugs & alcohol, and buckets of vomit (although falling short of what Mr. Creosote produced). The gross-out quotient isn't as high as in some films but it doesn't skimp. (For my money, the vomit scene may be the high point of Blockers' comedy - that or Leslie Mann's shocking encounter with a television set.) Needless to say, an appreciation of this film requires an enjoyment of the brand of comedy it offers. The movie is good enough to please fans of this subgenre but not so good that it will convert those who aren't. I'm reminded of something Roger Ebert wrote about Kingpin: "No doubt the movie is vulgar, and tries too hard for some of its laughs... the humor isn't just gags and punch lines, but one accomplished comic performance after another." I felt that way about Blockers, laughing more than I often do at Hollywood-produced "comedies" while admiring the craft that gives buoyancy to the humor (credit director Kay Cannon and her screenwriters, Brian and Jim Kehoe), while grounding it with a relatable subtext.
© 2018 James Berardinelli
Cinemas About Town