Two 11-year-olds make a film together, sealing their friendship with blood and producing carnage with ketchup, in “Son of Rambow,” a rough-and-ready action flick within a slice-of-boyhood comedy set on a memory wave of 1980s movie joy. Cute but contrived, the film contains vitality and likability to spare, but it doesn’t have the impact or the originality necessary to achieve the indie-gem status it seeks.
Delivering none of the bleakness and social criticism often found in fare set in post-industrial Britain, writer-director Garth Jennings (“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”) has made a boy-buddy comedy and a nostalgic, goofy salute to cinema.
Familiar elements — the do- it-yourself foolery of “Be Kind Rewind” and fantasy-life bits recalling “Heavenly Creatures” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” — mix with Jennings’ own quirky ingredients.
Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner), whose puritanical religion forbids TV and movie viewing, meets Lee Carter (Will Poulter), a bully aiming to enter a filmmaking contest, in the school hallway where Will waits until his teacher’s video presentation finishes and where Lee does time for making trouble.
The fatherless outcasts bond, and Lee, via a bootleg video of “Rambo: First Blood,” starring a grunting Sylvester Stallone, introduces Will to movies.
Wowed and exploding with imagination, Will proclaims himself “Son of Rambo” and advances from stuntman to leading man as the two elatedly film their flick. But when a cool French exchange student (Jules Soitruk) comes aboard, everything changes.
Jenningsdisplays a bent for creating gently off-kilter atmospheres and character dynamics.
The Will-Lee relationship is sweetly off-the-wall and believably depicts 11-year-old mentalities. Newcomers Poulter and Milner are natural and convincing.
Recalling “Truly Madly Deeply,” which presented the afterlife as a place where denizens watch videos all day, the film captures the pleasure of movies and home viewing. It has amusing fun with 1980s entertainment; “Rambo” comes off as cult-level kitsch.
But Jennings hasn’t crafted much of a story. His reliance on movie- shoot material — running; leaping; flying; war paint — for dramatic thrust fizzles.
The supporting characters, including Lee’s brutish older brother (Ed Westwick) and the church official (Neil Dudgeon) who wants Will’s devout mother (Jessica Stevenson) to quash Will’s independent streak, are one-note.
Consequently, the movie sags midway and doesn’t regain steam until the ending, which is too predictable and sentimental to save things.
All totaled, the film contains enough merit to qualify as art-house sweetmeat, but it could have been a serious charmer.
Son of Rambow (two and a half stars)
Starring Bill Milner, Will Poulter, Jules Soitruk, Jessica Stevenson
Written and directed by Garth Jennings
Running time 1 hour 36 minutes