The teen sex comedy gets a gender flip in “Blockers,” as a tight-knit trio of girls make a “sex pact,” vowing to lose their virginity on prom night. But it’s really the parents who take center stage in this raunchy and fitfully quite funny directorial debut from “Pitch Perfect” writer Kay Cannon, which plumbs plenty of warm hugs from the idea of parental angst about their kids leaving the nest.
Driving that angst home, the three girls (Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan and Gideon Adlon) are initially shown meeting as adorable kindergarteners, before jumping ahead to find them preparing for prom night, and seizing on the idea of sharing the big sex moment as a kind of anniversary. (The fact that one is actually wrestling with coming out adds a nice wrinkle to the proceedings.)
Inevitably, their respective parents – single mom Lisa (Leslie Mann), tear-prone dad Mitchell (John Cena) and divorced dad/perpetual screw-up Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) – get wind of the scheme, with the first two hell-bent on interceding, while the third – having become distant from his kid since the split – tagging along without endorsing the idea of trying to stop them.
Frankly, it’s a rather unlikely assemblage of leads better associated with second-banana roles, and as depicted the notion that they bonded through their children – and subsequently drifted apart – never seems wholly believable.
Still, the ensemble works, and even with its episodic nature the movie gets by on sheer energy. While Cena has clearly endeavored to establish himself as a comedy actor (including “Trainwreck” and the “Daddy’s Home” movies), in much the way Arnold Schwarzenegger did, his hulking WWE-honed physique does a trifle distracting.
Once the movie kicks into gear, Cannon (working from a script by brothers Brian and Jim Kehoe) conjures some truly blue sequences and sight gags that yield explosive laughs. Those largely compensate for the arid patches, as do the warm/fuzzy exchanges, which smartly play off the idea of raising your children and then trusting them enough to let go.
It helps that the movie smartly casts smaller roles, including Hannibal Buress as the new husband of Barinholtz’s ex, and Gary Cole and Gina Gershon as the sexually adventurous parents of one of the girl’s boyfriends. The kids, too, are well drawn and eccentric, including one who has a designer drug for every mood and occasion.
Obviously, there’s a long history of movies about boys losing their virginity, including the “American Pie” series. “Blockers” gives girls their turn, similar to what “Bridesmaids” did for the bachelor-party motif, while embracing a similar level of naughtiness, from crude talk to projectile vomiting to a whole new method of chugging beer. (Even the rooster logo is a not-exactly-subtle representation of what the older folks want to block.)
“Tonight is the beginning of my adult life,” one of the girls says as they head to prom. But if “Blockers” demonstrates anything that resonates beyond the laughs, it’s that people don’t outgrow familial worries; rather, we simply trade the childhood variety in for a whole new basket of them.
“Blockers” opens April 6 in the U.S. It’s rated R.