'Blockers' Review: Femcentric Raunch-Comedy Flips the Script and Scores

Three parents try to stop their teens' sexed-up prom-night plan – and turn a typical gross-out comedy into something special

'Blockers' turns a typical gross-out comedy into something tender and sweet – with naked Marco Polo and ass-beerchugging. Read Peter Travers' review. Credit: Quantrell D. Colbert/Universal Pictures

It's a sex farce about three high school girls who make a pact to lose their virginity on prom night – until their parents decide to cock-block them, that is. On paper, Blockers sounds bloody awful, like the spawn of Mean Girls and Superbad that nobody wanted. "Well, bite me!" as the teen stars of this a laugh-a-minute party would say. Cheers to debuting director Kay Cannon – a producer-writer on 30 Rock and a screenwriter on the Pitch Perfect comedies – for giving a witty femcentric spin to the script by Brian and Jim Kehoe that might otherwise have dude written all over it.

The focus is on three young women – Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam (Gideon Adlon) – who've been best friends since they bonded in preschool. They're more than able to handle themselves on prom night. The worst of the overprotective grownups are Lisa (Leslie Mann), Julie's single mom; Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), Sam's divorced dad; and Mitchell (John Cena), Kayla's confused, cuddle-bear of a parent who cries when his daughter does so much as shoot him a smile. 

Blockers boats a minimum of sexist sniggering and a maximum of talent on both sides of the camera, with Cannon working magic with her cast. The reliably stellar Mann finds the ferocity and the fear in Lisa. And Barinholtz is smarm personified until, well, he isn't. Cena, however, is the comic MVP of the movie – wait till you see him chug beer through his ass in an effort to save his little girl from predatory males. His character gets lectured hard about the double standard by his wife (Sarayu Blue): Would he act that way with a son? The pro-wrestling superstar builds on the promise he showed in Trainwreck by layering his performance into something hilarious and heartfelt. His scenes with the most excellent Viswanathan are exceptional – and unexpectedly endearing.

Don't get me wrong – the movie lays on the raunch, and there are more gut-busting laughs than you can count. But no one gets objectified or patronized. Julie has genuine feelings for boyfriend Austin (Graham Phillips). And Kayla is never the victim of her prom date, Connor (Miles Robbins, son of Tim), a charmer in a man bun known as "the chef" for cooking up drugs that he never uses to take advantage. As for shy Sam, she isn't at all conflicted about her geeky date, Chad (Jimmy Bellinger), since her only worry is how to come out to Julie and Kayla and come on to Angelica (Ramona Young), her sapphic crush.

It's a lot of plot to juggle, and formula tropes have a way of compromising originality. Luckily, Cannon rarely loses the human touch as she keeps the physical comedy in hyperdrive. Take Lisa's uproarious attempt not to be seen as she exits a hotel room where her daughter is about to have sex. And the parents' attempt to decode the emojis on their kids' smartphones is killer fun. To Mitchell, an eggplant is pure innocence. It's Hunter who sets him straight: "In teenage emoji, eggplants are dicks." Mitchell's horrified response is priceless. So is most of Blockers, a rowdy ride that never forgets to make us care.