' ' Cinema Romantico: The Sleepover

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Sleepover

“The Sleepover” opens with adolescent Kevin Finch (Maxwell Simkins) standing before his grade school class, tasked with giving a speech about his family history but reciting the plot of Ridley Scott’s 2015 film “The Martian” instead. His teacher calls him out, of course, and his dad, Ron (Ken Marino), lightly scolds him. If it is meant to be funny, it is also intended to evoke Kevin’s penchant for tall tales and how “The Sleepover” will gradually become a tall tale itself as Kevin and his sister, Clancy (Sadie Stanley), discover their mother, Margot (Malin Akerman), is a high end thief in witness protection. But Kevin reciting the plot of “The Martian” rather than concocting his own cockamamie story from scratch also evokes how director Trish Sie’s film is less an original movie, in narrative or rendering, than so many borrowed ingredients and spare parts. It was distributed by Netflix, after all, just another cog in its content machine, where the ultimate point is not so much carefully crafting a fresh product as following a formula to get it made as soon as possible to upload it and provide the masses something else to watch. “The Sleepover” is one part “Goonies”, one part “Spy Kids”, one part “Adventures in Babysitting”, one part “Date Night” but with little creativity and even less panache of its own, a movie as a Jetson food pill, the kind not really designed to be criticized, let alone reviewed, never mind enjoyed, just consumed. 

Even the film’s title proves perfunctory as the sleepover in question, in which Kevin’s friend Lewis (Lucas Jaye) stays over the same night Clancy plans to sneak out with her best friend Mim (Cree Cicchino), is mostly just an excuse for this quartet to be present when Margot and Ron are kidnapped by thieves from her previous life after an inadvertent viral video betrays her location. After disappearing, a U.S. Marshal (Erik Griffin), having become aware of Margot’s exposure, appears, tied up by the kids in Christmas lights and questioned. It’s not a striking image, per se, though it sticks out given the film’s basic visual template, but it at least suggests a sort of rewiring of a cliché, putting the kid gloves on hostage-taking, or something, a quality in scant supply. Indeed,  as “The Sleepover” progresses, flitting back and forth between the kids searching for their parents and their parents trying to survive being enlisted for a big heist, it rarely sees these events through the eyes of a child. 

“Adventures in Babysitting” may have been trite in its romantic machinations, with one hopeless crush juxtaposed against another hopeless crush, but it succeeded by virtue of so many joyfully outlandish set pieces – need I mention The Babysitting Blues? “The Sleepover”, on the other hand, manages little in the way of such inventive spirit, falling back on typical genre elements, like a tricked out car the kids briefly pilot, a sequence that was played out when Richard Grieco did it in “If Looks Could Kill.” (Another ingredient!) “The Goonies”, meanwhile, in both its narrative and Oregon locations, embodied a true sense of adventure, getting lost somewhere else. Its characters, as its nicknames attest, were archetypes but also felt alive. The atmosphere of “The Sleepover”, however, is as sterile as the mansion where everyone eventually meets while the characters are reduced to tics, like Clancy’s fear of playing cello in public, that are never elevated beyond the humdrum, the child performances simply not enough to compensate. 

In the adult storyline, meanwhile, Margot is supposed to be tempted by a return to her old lifestyle, though Akerman never quite plays it that way, offsetting any of the ostensible tension between her and Marino. As if sensing this, then, Marino just goes all in on comedy. In doing so, the ideas of strengthening a romantic and familial bond just sort of fall by the wayside, overrun by his fish out of water insistence, though who knows what else he was supposed to do. When the movie won’t even give you lemons, just run around like a chicken with your head cut off. 

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