Movie Review: A vacant space where the star is supposed to be kills “Behaving Badly”

badlyBuilding a raunchy teen sex comedy around the low-heat Nat Wolff of “Stuck in Love” wasn’t the smartest idea. Whatever his gifts at playing “sensitive,” he doesn’t bring the energy to do a quick and dirty teen-on-the-make farce. All by himself, he drags “Behaving Badly” down.
A lot of pretty funny people saw something funny in this script, based on the Ric Browde novel “While I’m Dead…Feed the Dog.” But surrounding Wolff with Mary-Louise Parker and Elisabeth Shue (in two roles, each), Selena Gomez, Jason Lee, Dylan McDermott, Gary Busey, Heather Graham and Patrick Warburton doesn’t help. Enough.
Wolff plays Rick Stevens, a bored and boring 17 year-old who narrates the tale, in flashback, explaining how his alcoholic mom (Parker) wound up leaving a suicide note (“While I’m dead…feed the dog.”), how his best friend (Lachlan Buchanan) and best girl (Selena Gomez) ended up in jail, and how his no-good father (Cary Elwes) was mistaken for the head of the Lithuanian mob.
Rick wanted to impress his sheltered and square object of desire, Nina (Gomez) by scoring backstage passes to a Josh Groban show. His best friend’s mom (Shue) then went all cougar/MILF/Mrs. Robinson on him. Rick ran errands for the strip club sleaze, Jimmy (McDermott), which put him in close proximity with ladies with love for sale. Jason Lee, his too-hip priest with a tan-from-a-can glow, offered no comfort, nor did Warburton’s smart-mouthed pervert of a high school principal.
At home, Rick’s drunken mother (Parker) has crawled into a vodka bottle over a failed marriage, his sister is a stripper with designs on attending Stanford and his confused love life has Rick seeing visions of Saint Lola (Parker, again, all cleavage and sparkly short shorts), the “patron saint of teenagers,” there to advise him on sex and drugs and the like.
Irreverent? Quite. Broad? Incredibly so.
But there are snickers in that supporting cast. Parker plays a great drunk, Shue flings herself into trampiness, Graham, playing another in a long line of loose women, vamps up a sexy lawyer high on Ecstasy. Buchanan, playing Billy, the confused and wimpy best friend, makes the most of the funniest lines.
“This totally reminds me of this German porno I downloaded!”
Random, improvised gags work — Shue, creepily giving Nina an unrequested French braid in the background of a scene, Warburton’s principal mouthing the threat “You wanna GO?” to Rick after another Latin teacher passes away mid-conjugation. Yeah, dead language, dead teacher, we get it.
Justin Bieber does a perp-walk cameo in the jailhouse, but that, like too much of what’s on the screen, just falls flat.
First-time director/co-writer Tim Garrick has little sense of timing and the movie mainly just lies there, never percolating to life, never living down to its lowdown and lewd promise. If Garrick had any say in his leading man, that’s his real failure here. He needed somebody up to playing a 2014 Ferris Bueller. Lacking the charm, bad boy naughtiness or wicked wit necessary to pull that off, Wolff just isn’t that guy.

MPAA Rating: R for crude sexual content and language throughout, some graphic nudity, and drug material
Cast: Nat Wolff, Elisabeth Shue, Selena Gomez, Mary-Louise Parker, Dylan McDermott, Jason Lee, Lachlan Buchanan
Credits: Directed by Tim Garrick, screenplay by Tim Garrick Scott Russell, based on a book by Ric Browde. A Vertical Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:38

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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