Son of Rambow

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PARK CITY -- "Son of Rambow: A Home Movie" might be titled more accurately "Son of John Hughes: An Elemental Movie." Over at Paramount, it would be enlightening to respool some of those classic John Hughes comedies, including a peek at the "Home Alone" ones he did over at Universal. In trade-ese, it's not well made, but it will make money.

The best children's movies are not just a hodgepodge of thematic elements and slapstick but, rather, the use of such ingredients to craft an engaging and universally appealing story. And they have engaging and survival-savvy protagonists, not merely a simp and a sadist as "Rambow" shoots out. Where is Hughes when Paramount clearly needs him?

Indeed, "Son of Rambow" is pumped up with all the right kids' ingredients: slapstick, fantasy, alienation and severe adult authority figures. But screenwriter and director Garth Jennings has slammed them all together with little cohesion and further slackened the story with atonal nastiness and gratuitously stick-thin side characters. Admittedly, the key ingredients will be enough to ensure that "Son of Rambow" attracts enough of the least-discerning children to the boxoffice to overcome its many shortcomings.

In this slight amusement, which certainly does have hilarious moments of slapstick, Will (Bill Milner) stars as a wimp who is bedeviled by his severe, religious-sect parents and a sadistic school bully, Carter (Will Poulter). Too dull and spineless to outwit his school tormentor, Will becomes Carter's slavish sidekick. In fact, you'd wish that Will would kill Carter, who is an obnoxious brute.

But the main story line lacks any discernible goal. Rather, it bounds into episodic fury as Carter forces Will to help him on his video shoot, a backyard version of "First Blood." In short, Carter forces Will to be his stuntman, subjecting him to all sorts of dangerous degradation.

Since there's not much going on with the main story line and we lose interest in witless Will after a while, filmmaker Jennings then slams in a supposedly comic and charismatic French exchange student, Didier (Jules Sitruk). Merely an annoying human sight gag, Didier is an androgynous poseur who parades and struts but doesn't return to France soon enough. Essentially, Jennings drops in such artificial ingredients to juice his meandering and thematically challenged narrative.

On the plus side, we get to see numerous snippets of "First Blood," recalling Sylvester Stallone's early glories as John Rambo. Yet that only makes us more aware of the necessity of a good screenwriter. In the case of "First Blood," that was James Cameron, who invigorated an essentially comic book-type action hero with sympathy and concocted a simple but dynamic story line. No similar thrust or clear aim is shown by "Rambow."

Technical credits are serviceable but considerably lessened under Jennings' unsure aesthetic grasp.

SON OF RAMBOW: A HOME MOVIE
Paramount Vantage
Hammer & Tongs
Reason Pictures/GOOD
Credits:
Producer: Nick Goldsmith
Screenwriter-director: Garth Jennings
Executive producer: Hengameh Panahi, Ben Goldhirsh, Bristol Baughn
Director of photography: Jess Hall
Production designer: Joel Collins
Music: Joby Talbot
Editor: Dominic Leung
Casting: Susie Figgis
Costume designer: Harriet Cawley
Cast:
Carter: Will Poulter
Will: Bill Milner
Didier: Jules Sitruk
Duncan: Charlie Thrift
Mary: Jessica Stevenson
Running time -- 96 minutes
No MPAA rating

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