Blockers sets out to update the classic prom night sex-pact teen comedy for a post-Weinstein Hollywood. While it largely succeeds in that perhaps noble goal — and includes perhaps the best climactic kiss of the year — with its B-grade jokes and excessive focus on the parents, it falls short just about everywhere else.

John Cena, Leslie Mann, and Ike Barinholtz play the respective parents of three friends on prom night — Geraldine Viswanathan, Kathryn Newton, and Gideon Adlon. Instead of teen boys pledging to lose their virginities, you see, it’s girls — hip, woke, tolerant, empowered young women. That itself could have made for a funny premise, if the girls weren’t largely back-benched to make way for unending omg-we-are-so-not-with-it nosy-parent antics.

Hyphens are my cardio.

Setting aside the fundamental un-woke-ness of the core premise — namely, that the aforementioned young women are utterly unable to make sexual decisions for themselves, so their chastity must be sternly enforced by beefy dads and nutter moms in some wild anachronistic fever-dream — Blockers tries to strike an uneasy balance between dick jokes and butt humor on the one hand, and gee-whiz sentiment on the other. This is a balance that can be struck — see, e.g., pretty much any successful teen comedy — but nonetheless hovers frustratingly beyond the clutches of first-time director Kay Cannon. The raunch isn’t that raunchy, progressive triggers rain down at random like an off-target aid drop, and despite a handful of laugh-out-loud lines, it’s not consistently funny. (I’m mystified that Blockers was greenlit with such strong talent, being also the work of two essentially first time writers.)

It’s not a bad film, exactly; Blockers just never hits its stride. What promises to be a teen party romp ends up as an indulgent circle-jerk of protective parenting and a throaty lament for out-of-touch control-freak grown ups. That’s decent material for a backstory, in my view, but thrust to center stage, it sputters.

To be clear, to the extent Blockers is a disappointment, I drop that on the doorstep of Cannon and the Kehoe boys. The on-screen talent can take a pass: Mann delivers her trademark saccharine side-eye, Cena gamely does his able-bodied best with some unfortunate material, and Barinholtz is eminently watchable here (and his quips get the most laughs). The girls are solid too, with a particular Haus-nod to frank-talking scene-stealer Viswanathan. I just wish we saw more of them, and less of the deluded party-pooping zealots.(A gossamer side story with classmate Ramona Young was the true highlight of the film.)  And I’m sorry, but I think there’s an observable difference between actual, honest diversity in color-blind casting and the sort of “look-ma-I-did-it” penciling-in of spousal bit parts for underrepresented minorities. The former never feels like feel box-checking. The latter does.

As regular readers of this space will appreciate, the Haus is a visual creature –a velvet-capped lotus-eater, sure, but also a style enthusiast, a dandy disciple, a lover of sprightly scenery. And I come up empty here: Cookie-cutter upscale houses, bland hotel ballrooms, darkened grassy lots — the sets in Blockers look fake, prefab, like a Vegas rendition of idealized American existence. Dislike.

Good teen comedies both capture and vigorously milk the angst and hardship of vanishing youth, of kids charging headlong into the fog of adulthood with friends by their side. But Blockers isn’t really a teen movie; it’s a whiny, inconsistently funny nutty-parent flick with kids as a prop. By the time it finally circles back to grapple with its outdated premise and backs off from shrill, knee-jerk “keep your hands off my daughter”-ism, it’s just too late. At least, until that kiss.

Haus Verdict: First-time female director, check. Plenty of progressive catnip, check. But Blockers throws it away by focusing on the parents, not the kids. Despite its high notes, a semi-woke Frankenstein that could at least have been funnier. 

Blockers opened Friday, April 6.

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