The Sleep Over (PG, 101 minutes)
The new Netflix family action film The Sleep Over is the kind of harmless romp families could view together, a little mild violence and grown-up innuendo aside.
As two children and their best friends follow the trail of their kidnapped parents through a long Boston night, everybody learns something new about each other.
Margot (Malin Ackerman) and Ron (Ken Marino) are fairly traditional parents to school-age children Clancy (Sadie Stanley), Kevin (Maxwell Simkins) and dog Angus.
Kevin is in trouble at school for telling fanciful tales about his parents, and his bullies have filmed him dancing in the school bathroom and posted it online where it has gone viral.
Clancy has her own series of troubles, beginning with her parents being boring, them not allowing her to have a phone, and them not considering her seriously about enrolling in a music school the will allow her talent as a cellist to flourish.
On the same night that Kevin has over-mothered school pal Lewis (Lucas Jaye) coming for a sleep over, intruders break in to the house and kidnap parents Margot and Ron. Clancy's best friend Mim (Cree Ciccino) has also crashed the house to break Clancy out and sneak off to a party at a boy's house, but instead the four kids end up on the trail of their missing parents.
Netflix seems to be trying to appeal to every possible audience with this film.
Their resourceful mother has left a series of clues that lead the kids into Boston city and eventually to a storage facility that houses secrets about their mother's past. Mum, you see, happens to be a former cat burglar in witness protection, all of which is news to dad Ron. Their kidnappers are some of Margot's old acquaintances who need her skills to perform a major heist, also roping in mum's old boyfriend Leo (Joe Manganiello).
Kidnappers, parents, boyfriends, kids and sleepover guests all collide at a reception where a pretty impressive set of crown jewels are on display.
Netflix seems to be trying to appeal to every possible audience with this film. The younger family members will enjoy the scatological humour, sight gags and general silliness, the pre-teens will identify with he misunderstood teen leads, while the grown-ups get to enjoy some big names familiar from their more adult work and writing that can be read on different levels.
The film's better comedy comes from pitting suave Joe Manganiello against Ken Marino, sharing snappy banter as the duel for the affections of the woman they both love.
Malin Ackerman has form as a superhero from Zack Snyder's Watchmen film, so feels believable once she drops the boring mum persona and throws on a sparkly dress, heels and dishes out the roundhouse kicks.
The four child-teen actors enjoying varying degrees of success, though the friends come off better. Though the overprotected and over-allergic kid trope is a little overdone, Lucas Jaye draws good laughs.
Cree Ciccino stands out as Clancy's too-adult-for-her-own-good pal. My niece has a friend just like Mim, precocious in away that terrifies all of the parents in her vicinity. Relatable.
Director Trish Sie began her career as a choreographer and has a handful of younger-skewing films to her credit, including one of the Step Up films and the most recent of the Pitch Perfect flicks. Consequently, there is some good work in the film's action scenes, though Sarah Rothschild's screenplay is fairly familiar.
For some of its audience, the jokes will be new jokes, the parents in peril and the kids save the day story will be new, and they'll look back fondly. Which is how fans of Spy Kids or Agent Cody Banks felt in 2001 and 2003, and it was how I felt in 1985 about The Goonies and in 1987 about Adventures in Babysitting. All of those films are in here, lovingly referenced, if I'm being kind.