2018, R, 102 min. Directed by Kay Cannon. Starring Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, John Cena, Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, Gideon Adlon, Ramona Young, Colton Dunn, Hannibal Buress.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., April 6, 2018

Is there any moment more bittersweet than watching kids on their first day of school? Of course, one moment they're falling over their Trapper Keeper, the next they're talking about moving to California for college, and you're left wondering who these people, these other parents, you've stood next to at the school gates really are. With kindergartners becoming high school best friends Julie (Newton), Sam (Adlon), and Kayla (Viswanathan), the adults in their lives are drifting apart. Kayla's dad, overly literal jock Mitchell (Cena), is baffled that Julie's mom Lisa (Mann) doesn't want to be friends anymore, while they've both turned their backs on party animal and adulterer Hunter (Barinholtz), who turned his back on Sam through her growing pains. But a prom night pledge between the girls that they will all lose their virginity at the same time sends all three parentals into a mad tailspin – if for very different reasons.

The latest from the Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg R-rated comedy machine, Blockers has the heart that their tediously sensationalist Sausage Party lacked. In her directorial debut, Pitch Perfect writer Cannon dances between the gross-out, the pratfalls, and the very resonant story of growing up. Her success is not in making this a simple “kids outwit their parents” narrative, or pushing the teens into supporting roles, but by balancing the story: The kids are worried about growing up, while the adults are working through their own issues, and everyone’s story has a little space to breathe.

She also avoids any of the "edgy" (read: ill-considered) sexual antics that so often age these movies so badly. There’s no date rape subplot (so often used as a cheap device in high school romps) to add unnecessary tension; instead, Cannon just lets the high stakes of losing your virginity, and how, and when, and with whom, be enough. On top of that, one significant subplot makes as much effort to make LGBTQ relationships as commonplace and regular in a blockbuster as Love, Simon did, and the fact that she does not make a big deal of it makes it a big deal.

But this is first and foremost a broad, lewd comedy, complete with butt chugging, exploding cars, a lot of vomit, and blindfold naked tag. Barinholtz and Mann swim these waters with ease, but it’s another revelatory part for pro-wrestler John Cena. After bit parts in Sisters and Trainwreck proved he has cinema comedy timing, he leaps into the ensemble here as the macho but awkward Mitchell, worried about his baby girl ending up with a boy … well, a little too much like him. Yet if there’s a real breakout performance here, it’s Geraldine Viswanathan as jock Mitchell’s suitably sporty daughter. She doesn’t deliver her lines. She slices through them with the easy charm and rat-a-tat delivery of the OG Saturday Night Live crew.

If there's one error, it's that there are almost too many laughs. Cannon keeps the pace up, and some of the smart one-liners from the script by Brian and Jim Kehoe get stamped on in the race for the next gag. Still, a laugh lost because the audience is still howling from the last slapstick is no major sin.

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Blockers, Kay Cannon, Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, John Cena, Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, Gideon Adlon, Ramona Young, Colton Dunn, Hannibal Buress

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