You probably figured the only message tucked away in the prom-night raunchfest “Blockers” would be the rooster unsubtly perched atop the title on the movie poster. But for a comedy about high school virgins with sex on the brain – and the parents determined to thwart them — this one has some sweetly funny sentiment and reassurances to offer.
It’s a haul getting there, what with detours such as a chain-reaction barf gag set to “The Marriage of Figaro.” (Meanwhile, we still can’t decide whether fretful dad John Cena reluctantly learning about party-hardy “butt-chugging” is a guilty yuck, or merely revolting.) But “Pitch Perfect” writer-turned-rookie-director Kay Cannon and her cast keep us laughing enough to hang in for a satisfying takeaway: It’s only natural for the ’rents to worry. Sometimes, though, teens know themselves better than their folks suspect.
Maybe Cannon’s classical soundtrack pick should have been “Flight of the Valkyries,” given all the helicoptering going on. Lisa (Leslie Mann) has always been both sunny single parent and bestie to Julie (Kathryn Newton), but angsts that her daughter’s serious boyfriend (Graham Phillips) and college plans spell change — big, too-imminent change. Mitchell (Cena) has raised Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) to be every bit the butt-kicker he is, yet to him she’s still daddy’s little girl — and her hang-loose date (Miles Robbins) is just a man-bun with a smirk. Even absentee dad Hunter (show-stealing Ike Barinholtz, “The Mindy Project”) turns meddlesome, eyeing a surprise limo rental, etc., as a way to bond with awkward daughter Sam (Gideon Adlon).
The adults’ worst fears are confirmed when they come across texts in which the girls have pacted to lose it after the dance. Cue a long night of further snooping, limo-tailing, and righteous barging in. The zaniness can be painful or hilarious — or both, in scenes featuring Gary Cole and Gina (viva “Showgirls”!) Gershon as absurdly oversexed parents with a decidedly liberal view on the evening’s festivities.
“Cool” parent Hunter’s deciphering of those tip-off texts is an example of the movie’s undersold knack for comparatively tame bits that get real laughs. Ditto for mortified Lisa’s later klutzy escape, somehow undetected, from her daughter’s romance-primed hotel room. But as nifty as any of it is a witty, touching story thread about Adlon’s trepidatious geek wrestling with her sexual orientation even as she wrestles with peer pressure to hop into bed. And guess what? She and the movie make the smart call.
Directed by Kay Cannon. Written by Brian Kehoe and Jim Kehoe. Starring Leslie Mann, John Cena, Ike Barinholtz, Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, Gideon Adlon. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 102 mins. R (crude and sexual content, language throughout, drug content, teen partying, some graphic nudity).