Let’s talk about “Superbad” for a moment. The 2007 teen comedy, often held up as one of the best of the genre to come out of 21st century has been praised since its release for its ability to be incredibly funny yet surprisingly real. For all the insane misadventures Evan and Seth find on their quest to buy alcohol, the film is ultimately the story of them realizing their friendship can’t last forever. And since “Superbad” made a truck-load of money at the box office, every year a handful of R-rated comedies try to replicate its success by matching up nudity, F-bombs and occasional graphic violence with warmth and humanity. This year, “Blockers” lands squarely in that group.
For what it’s worth, Kay Cannon’s directorial debut — a film about three teenage girls on a quest to lose their virginities on prom night and their parents’ quest to try to stop them — does humor and heart well when the two groups are isolated from each other. The moments that are supposed to be funny, when they land, work well thanks to the comic talents of the cast, and by focusing her last act on the relationship between the girls and their parents, Cannon at least achieves a modicum of the sweetness she’s after.
The problem is when those moments are taken out of isolation and placed next to each other. Like a poorly mixed drink at a prom after-party, the individual ingredients here might be strong, but mixed together they both quickly lose what made them work in the first place. A dramatic scene will segue into a comedic scene without even a passing attempt at connecting tissue or a comedic scene will stop abruptly so the characters can have a heart-to-heart. Whatever the case, something inevitably loses its impact. It’s impossible to care about a touching scene between father and daughter when it is immediately followed by a smash cut to a montage of John Cena (“Daddy’s Home 2”) kicking doors open looking for his own daughter. Going from that montage to a character making a life-changing decision likewise sucks all the energy out of the room.
It has to be said that a lot of the jokes in “Blockers” don’t work not just because of their context, but because they aren’t that funny in the first place. That Cena-centric montage plays like the set-up of a very funny joke. What kind of crazy messed-up stuff is he going to see going door to door acting like an action here? What will his reaction be? “Blockers” plays at starting to give funny answers to those questions, but given the long set-up to the joke, the second-long punchline can’t help but leave something to be desired. The same goes for the humor in much of the rest of the movie. There are plenty of good set-ups, but the script very rarely makes good on any of them.
Then there are scenes like the one that finds the girls and their dates in the back of a limo. One of them has a bit too much to drink, starts vomiting and before you know it everyone in the back of the limo is vomiting all over each other because vomit is the most objectively funny material in the known universe since that most revered comic fodder of poop. Gross-out jokes still need to be jokes. You can’t just show something disgusting and comedy magically ensues. People throwing up all over each other wasn’t funny when “Scary Movie 2” made the exact same joke in 2001, it wasn’t funny when it was repeated annually since then and it isn’t funny now.
It’s not that mixing raunchy humor and serious subject matter like “Blockers” aims to do is impossible. Last year, “Girl’s Trip” did it by relying on its cast and was rightfully praised as perhaps the best comedy of the year. In “Superbad,” Greg Mottola and co. reinvigorated the genre by keeping the story and characters in focus from beginning to end. While “Blockers” itself has a decent cast, not only is the film less funny than the movies it aspires to stand alongside, but its inability to reconcile its comedic and dramatic moments, to work with its cast or to know when enough is enough means that only about half of it works.