To criticize the humor in Good Boys for being juvenile seems sort of redundant, since the whole point of the movie is to represent the perspective of a trio of hormonal 12-year-old boys. And yet it’s still a one-note parade of repetitive low-brow jokes pretty much all based on the premise that it’s hilarious to hear kids use swear words and talk confidently (but cluelessly) about sex. Best friends Max (Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon) and Lucas (Keith L. Williams) call themselves the Beanbag Boys, spend their time together playing Magic: The Gathering and are definitely not the most popular kids in sixth grade. When middle-school kingpin Soren (Izaac Wang) invites them to a “kissing party,” Max sees it as the opportunity to finally connect with his crush Brixlee (Millie Davis), Thor sees it as a chance to prove that he’s not a musical theater-loving wuss, and the dedicated rule-follower Lucas just goes along because he doesn’t want to be left out.
Produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, Good Boys aspires to be Superbad for tweens, starting with its structure featuring the main characters facing a series of obstacles as they try to get to a party. But filmmakers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (they co-wrote the screenplay, and Stupnitsky directed) can’t capture the right mix of raunchy humor and genuine emotions, and their attempts at both mostly fall flat. It’s a little funny at first to hear these sweet-looking kids say the F-word over and over (it’s literally the first word spoken in the movie), or to mistake sex toys for jewelry and/or weapons. But once you realize that Eisenberg and Stupnitsky don’t really have any other jokes, the laughs dry up pretty quickly.
There’s a sort of Adventures in Babysitting vibe to the boys’ conflict with a pair of teenage girls who steal the drone the boys have been using to spy on them (in order to learn about kissing, of course). Hannah (Molly Gordon) and Lily (Midori Francis) are only a few years older, but they’re already mature and cynical, wistfully recalling their own tween days even as they antagonize and torment the boys, who’ve stolen their stash of molly in retaliation. The basic quest (get the drone back or Max’s dad will ground him) takes them all over their sleepy suburb, from the mall to a frat house to a harrowing run across a busy freeway.
The pacing is a bit haphazard, though, and the mission is low-stakes not just because they’re kids but also because their friendship never particularly seems like it’s in jeopardy (and there’s no real emotional investment in getting to the party). The three kid stars are charming, especially Williams as the nervous, eagerly tattle-telling Lucas, who never wants to do anything remotely against the rules, and immediately admits to any wrongdoing when confronted. At 12 years old, Tremblay is already in the phase of his career where he can follow up two acclaimed, award-winning dramatic roles (in Room and Wonder) by showing off his comedic side, and he gives Max a good balance of sweetness and vulgarity.
By the end, the boys learn a little something about growing up and growing apart, although the lessons are a little hollow and rote. There are some amusingly odd adult characters in the margins, including Stephen Merchant as an awkward Magic collector and Sam Richardson as a weary cop, but they don’t stick around long enough to make a real impression. The humor and the heart all fall to the young stars to carry, but the adults behind the camera only give them the bare minimum to work with.