Son of Rambow
This potential summer sleeper is loaded with charm and laughs but also has a tendency to lapse into heavy-handedness.
Set in the early 1980s, the film follows young Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) as he tentatively deals with the early pangs of adolescent rebellion. It only takes one viewing of Sylvester Stallone in the original First Blood, combined with an unlikely friendship with cocky classmate Lee Carter (Will Poulter), to inspire Will to become more assertive and question authority. This doesn't sit too well with Will's widowed, devoutly religious mother (Jessica Stevenson), but it ultimately makes her re-evaluate her relationship with her son. While most of their classmates are preoccupied with a group of French foreign-exchange students, Will and Lee team up to produce their own, makeshift sequel to First Blood (even if they somehow misspell Rambo's name). In doing so, they cement their friendship--perhaps the first genuine friendship of either boy's life--but there are also circumstances that threaten to bring their youthful camaraderie crashing down.
The engaging, unforced performances of Milner and Poulter--both making their big-screen bows--go a long, long way toward any success that Son of Rambow can claim for itself. There's also a memorably quirky turn by Jules Sitruk as Didier, the "coolest" of the French exchange students, and a riotous appearance by long-time British favorite Eric Sykes, playing what amounts to a geriatric, bed-ridden Rambo (arguably the film's funniest scene).
Writer/director Garth Jennings (of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fame) has a good feel for the way kids act and talk, and he brings an exuberant irreverence to much of the proceedings, but it's in the characterization of the film's adult characters where the effort falls a little short. When Son of Rambow turns serious, the transition from humor to pathos is sometimes awkward--and whenever the focus of the film drifts away from Will and Lee, the momentum flags. Nevertheless, the film has a strong capacity to connect with audiences of all ages and may well find one this summer.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 1/2 stars.