Blockers, the latest lurching vacillation of sweetness and raunch from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s Point Grey Pictures, reimagines the sex-pact theatrics of American Pie from the female perspective. This makes it inherently more interesting than the original, in which the objects of the boys’ desires remained just that—objects. Here, three bright, witty, self-assured young women hold court, and they carry the picture with more charm and insight than a film with a meretricious projectile-vomiting gag probably deserves.
Yet there’s a subversive method to the movie’s gutter residency. If Blockers settles too many times for rehashed lowbrow humor, it nonetheless satisfies the parameters of a feminist experiment, at least for Hollywood; much of its squeamish humor comes at the expense of subverted, defanged masculinity.
Lisa, Hunter and Mitchell have a problem. Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz and John Cena, respectively, play parents who are forced to acknowledge that, seemingly overnight, their daughters have become sexual beings. The night in particular is their high school prom, and the curious teenagers — all-American blonde Julie (Kathryn Newton); sarcastic, drug-friendly Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan); and awkward, closeted lesbian Sam (Gideon Adlon) — have entered a contest to lose their virginities.
With their daughters already whisked away in a limo, Lisa and Hunter stumble upon an open text conversation about the pact, complete with coded emojis, on Julie’s computer. They rope in Mitchell and embark on a quixotic and silly quest to prevent their daughters’ coitus, and serve the you-know-what blockers of the title. Thus, Blockers becomes a twin road movie, with the girls and their dates shuffling from the prom gym to ever more secluded and furtive destinations, and the clumsy parents always two steps behind, like self-righteous Keystone Kops.
There is little novelty in a prom-night sexcapade, nor in the familiar irony of kids harboring more wisdom and sensibility than their growth-stunted parents. Where Blockers earns its gender-studies bona fides is in the delivery of these repackaged goods. Kayla is a trove of priceless, reproductively assertive bons mots that put the lesser sex to shame. “Penises are not for looking at, they’re for use — they’re like plungers,” she says, with a candor Mae West could never get away with. Pitch Perfect writer Kay Cannon, in her directorial debut, guided her young actresses marvelously.
The double standard of prom-night sex — i.e. boys are lauded for being high-school lotharios, and women are slut-shamed — is directly addressed by Mitchell’s wife Marcie (Sarayu Blue), who is the only parent to approach their daughters’ decision from a more liberated, rational perspective. But the calamities the parents endure say more about the movie’s sly feminist bent, especially the ones that befall Mitchell.
Cena, a professional wrestler and one of Hollywood’s most testosterone-leaking alpha males, is subjected to cupping a blindfolded man’s testicles (don’t ask why) and enduring an alcoholic enema at a wiseacre’s post-prom kegger. This is surely the only non-pornographic movie in film history to contain the line “That’s the last of the ass juice.”
Some of you would mentally check out of Blockers at that point, and I can’t say I’d blame you. To deem much of its physical folderol toilet humor is to insult the fine work of Kohler and American Standard. But by using it to mock the sort of gay-panic jokes that infected too many 1990s comedies, there’s a method to the unpleasantness.
What’s less defensible is the movie’s insistence on landing in the focus-grouped nexus of saccharine and outrageous that Judd Apatow trademarked, and that few of his acolytes accomplish nearly as fluidly. Cannon, working from a script by five writers, jerks from outraged confrontations between parents and their offspring to teachable bonding moments within about 30 real-time screen seconds, in a transparently cloying climax. Now that’s offensive.
BLOCKERS. Director: Kay Cannon; Cast: Leslie Mann, John Cena, Ike Barinholtz, Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, Gideon Adlon, Hannibal Buress, Gary Cole, Gina Gershon; Distributor: Universal; Rating: R; Opens: Friday at most area theaters