The Kings of Summer is a coming-of-age story that keeps its humor as dry as the sunbaked days of its particular teen rebellion.
Consider that the primary father figure is the droll Nick Offerman of NBC's Parks and Recreation. His laconic style sets the tone for the film in which the adults are in a constant state of parental parody rather than panic.
A vicious game of Monopoly, which may have single-handedly divided more families than any other board game in existence, sets off the escape story of the three tousled-haired kings - ably played by Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, and Moises Arias.
Suffice it to say Monopoly brings out the worst in everyone, especially Offerman's Frank Toy, father of 15-year-old Joe (Robinson). The death of the Toy family's wife and mother a few years back hangs over the house. Father and son are dealing with it badly, particularly since Frank matches his teenager's resistance to household rules with a sarcastic bite that's worse than his bark.
Joe decides to run away and live in the nearby woods with all the bravado of Peter Pan, and none of the survival skills.
Equally up for escape is best friend Patrick (Basso), who is being smothered to death by overprotective parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson, nicely nudgy). Biaggio (Arias) is like a loose end, the weird kid who tags along and is impossible to shake.
Though much effort will be expended turning scrap wood into their dream house , the boys' real task is to learn that being masters of your fate isn't as easy as it seems.
The filmmakers are a bit like their boys of summer, plowing into new terrain in promising ways but rough around the edges.
In their feature debut, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and screenwriter Chris Galletta do a good bit of bobbing and weaving around problems.
The story is set in the modern day, but the summer in the woods seems carved out of a simpler time. There are streams to fish, lakes to swim in, trees to climb. But life on the lam is defined by the house the boys build.
It is the film's central metaphor as well. Made from found material, it has enough structural charm that the boys would have a future in construction if they weren't college-bound. Nifty-looking but completely implausible.
The Kings of Summer *** (out of four stars)
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts. With Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, and Nick Offerman. Distributed by CBS Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 33 mins.
Parent's guide: R (profanity, teenage drinking).
Playing at: Ritz Five.