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Ho-hum ‘The Sleepover’ more of a sleepwalk

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If you’re looking to make a kid-friendly action movie, you’re limited in many ways. Ultimately, this means that there are only a handful of basic ideas that are feasible. Filmmakers take one of these concepts, slap some cosmetic changes onto it and call it a movie.

One of the go-tos for kiddie action is “Parents have a secret and kids are the only ones who can save them.” We’ve seen it a million times.

Better make it a million and one.

“The Sleepover,” a new original movie from Netflix currently streaming on the service, is the latest to throw a coat of paint and a few accessories onto that baseline idea and let her rip. Now, there’s a certain base level of competence that comes with Netflix films, so this film’s floor is pretty high. Unfortunately, it’s rare that the company’s originals far exceed that base level, so the ceiling is fairly low.

And so we get “The Sleepover,” a reasonably-executed and largely soulless collection of dopey kid jokes and slightly-off adult banter featuring a couple of decent action sequences. The story is thin and the film features a couple of actors you recognize giving inoffensive performances; basically, it’s the exact kind of disposable cinema we largely expect from Netflix.

Clancy (Sadie Stanley, “Kim Possible”) is a teenager living with her family on Cape Cod, a quiet girl who plays the cello well enough to be considered for a prestigious summer program. Her little brother Kevin (Maxwell Simkins, TV’s “Bizaardvark”) is a bit of an oddball with a tendency toward flights of fancy. Clancy’s dad Ron (Ken Marino, TV’s “Black Monday”) is a goofy pastry chef and her mom Margot (Malin Akerman, “A Piece of My Heart”) is a homemaker.

When Clancy’s crush invites her to a party, her best friend Mim (Cree Cicchino, TV’s “Mr. Iglesias”) is on her to go, but Clancy’s parents balk; the kids make plans to sneak out that night. Meanwhile, Kevin’s neurotic buddy Lewis (Lucas Jaye, “Driveways”) is coming over for a sleepover in a tent in the backyard; that’s where Clancy and Mim rendezvous after Clancy sneaks out.

All in all, pretty typical family stuff.

But when mysterious figures Baxter (Harry Aspinwall, “The Wedding”) and Elise (Enuka Okuma, TV’s “Impulse”) turn up, things get nuts. With only a bathroom-bound Lewis as witness, Baxter and Elise confront Margot with a demand – join them to undertake a job. Turns out that Margot has been in Witness Protection for 15 years, having testified against a notorious crime boss. Baxter and Elise take Margot – whose real name is Matilda – and a flabbergasted Ron.

With no idea what happened, the four kids are left with just a few scant clues as to their parents’ whereabouts. Determined, they decide to do whatever it takes to track down and rescue their folks.

So the aforementioned job is to steal a valuable crown, but the entire group needs to reunite, which means that Leo (Joe Manganiello, “Bottom of the 9th”) – Margot’s ex-partner AND ex-fiance – is brought into the picture, much to a jealous Ron’s chagrin.

Basically, as the quartet of reunited thieves put together their plan to steal the crown, the four kids are embarking on an adventure of their own, following assorted clues and stumbling their way toward finding and rescuing their parents.

Hijinks, of course, ensue.

You might be thinking to yourself that this movie sounds an awful lot like a store-brand “Spy Kids,” a generic knockoff of sorts. For the most part, you’d be right – if that movie had been made by a relatively inexperienced director instead of Robert Rodriguez, you’d probably have something pretty close to “The Sleepover.”

That’s not to knock director Trish Sie, but her only two previous feature efforts were a “Step Up” sequel and “Pitch Perfect 3” – not exactly a broad body of work. She does her best, but her work here tops out at competent. That’s in no small part the fault of the thin script, written by debut screenwriter Sarah Rothschild. The blend of inexperience tends to undermine the overall product, leaving us with something that isn’t even interesting enough to dislike. “The Sleepover” simply … is, another forgettable encapsulation of the Netflix ethos of constant content churn.

Will kids have fun? For a given value of “fun,” sure. And at the very least, parents can rest easy letting them watch. “The Sleepover” is the movie equivalent of plain oatmeal or a saltine – bland and unexciting, but not actively unpleasant.

The performances are of a piece with the rest of the film – not great, not terrible. Meh across the board, really. The kids are OK, though there’s little in the way of subtlety. Stanley and Jaye are clearly more talented than they were allowed to show, while Cicchino does her best with quip-heavy dialogue and Simkins is hammy in a surprisingly OK manner reminiscent of a previous generation’s kid actors. It’s more of the same from the grown-ups. Akerman is ostensibly the star – she’s top-billed – but despite being onscreen constantly, she doesn’t feel like the lead. There’s just not much there. Manganiello is here, doing his thing sans nuance or sleeves. Marino turns the dorky dad shtick up to 11 and breaks off the knob; at the very least, he seems to be legitimately trying. Everyone else is … present.

“The Sleepover” is cinematic fast food, a movie that you can put on to distract the kids for a couple of hours and then promptly forget about. It isn’t nutritious or all that satisfying, but it’s familiar and it’ll do in a pinch. Just don’t be surprised if it puts you to sleep.

[2 out of 5]

Last modified on Sunday, 23 August 2020 13:26

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