The kids are all right in “Good Boys.” The adults are something else. If you’re familiar with the crude comedy of misadventure and sentimental education — every generation has its self-defining favorite — you have pretty much seen this movie. The big difference (cue the elevator pitch) is that this time the boys are boys, specifically 12-year-olds whose innocence about sex, drugs, women, themselves, is grist for a feature-length joke.
Sometimes the joke is funny and sometimes not, a familiar hit-and-miss ratio for the production team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who have established a comedy brand that’s equal parts raunchiness and sentimentality (“This Is the End,” “Sausage Party”). The most obvious model for “Good Boys” is their hit “Superbad,” a sweet ’n’ silly coming-of-age tale about three high school seniors trying to lose their virginity before heading off to college. Written by Rogen and Goldberg, “Superbad” owes much to Judd Apatow, a producer and comedy spirit guide who understands that human frailties tend to make the laughs stick.
In “Good Boys” that frailty is existential, a matter of tender age and being. Size matters too, of course, particularly in the case of the lead boy, Max (Jacob Tremblay), who’s dwarfed by nearly everyone else and whose slight build serves as a constant, sometimes uneasy reminder of just how young he is. Along with his best friends, Lucas (Keith L. Williams), and Thor (Brady Noon), Max is in the sixth grade and freaking out over the customary things: older kids, being cool, girls, his body. Max knows that something is happening to him and while he has a grasp on his metamorphosis, he is completely unprepared to deal with it.
This makes Max vulnerable — he is, after all, a child — a state of being the movie exploits. Sometimes this exploitation is lightly amusing and good-natured, as when Max curses or goes gaga over a crush. But while it’s ticklishly humorous when he, Lucas and Thor find a stash of parental sex toys that they guilelessly brandish (Max puts on a black fetish hood, as if it were a Halloween mask), the joke is very clearly on them. By the time the three are trying to cross a busy multilane freeway, frantically dodging cars and shrieking about death, it is no longer funny because, well, it isn’t, mostly because the moviemakers have turned into bullies.