Netflixable? Bitter War widow warms, just a little, when she has to care for “Justine”

The big moment of pathos in “Justine” comes courtesy one of the best character actors in the business — Glynn Turman.

He’s a supporting player, as he often is, the father of a Marine killed in the Middle East. His daughter-in-law hasn’t come to grips with that, and has utterly shut down — barely talking to her two grade school kids, brusquely leaning on “Papa Don” to do the child care, keep a roof over their heads and make their new life living with him work.

The widow won’t allow pictures of the deceased in the house, won’t let her kids even mention the man they call “you-know-who…’D.A.D.'”

And Papa Don is worried for her, the children and himself, concerned enough to take the kids with him for an impulse visit to a Veterans Administration grief counselor. It’s a subtle yet fraught scene, and Turman, 60 years into a career of making little moments click, sing or sting, gives us just a hint of tears and a tiny choked-up moment in his voice.

“Girl like a robot,” Don says to the counselor (Cleo King), explaining why Lisa (writer-director Stephanie Turner) isn’t here to talk, and let her kids talk to a mental health professional.

Movies can be a treasure trove of such riches, and if you watch a lot of them, you may find yourself rooting for a veteran player like Turman — who had too little to do in Ben Affleck’s “The Way Back” — to have a great moment.

He does, and “Justine” is the richer for it. The film isn’t about him, or for that matter the title character, a tween (Daisy Prescott) with spina bifida whose too-busy parents hire Lisa for the only job she can get in a tight California work market — nanny/caregiver to their special needs child.

It’s about Lisa, broken, chilly and shut-off from everything except the anger over her husband’s death, the “open investigation” the military is carrying out into that death.

The job is pushed on her, even though she’s looking for one of those rare-than-rare low-impact “receptionist” gigs. “I really don’t think I’m care-takerish,” she complains.

But the Greens have a lot of money, and are willing to pay top dollar to have somebody do what they, too-conveniently we think, are too busy to do themselves — raise their house-bound, home-schooled child.

Allison (Darby Stanfield) and Mike (Josh Stamberg) live in a McMansion, but speak only of Justine’s “needs” and “surgeries.” It takes a realtor (her) and a builder (him), working seven days a week, to pay for all this. Just keep Justine on her schedule. Oh, and by the way — don’t let her get too close to you.

And even if they give off a frosty vibe, even though Lisa is barely warm enough to have a pulse, the job is hers.

I don’t want to make too much of the movie writer-director-star Turner has cooked up, here. Kudos for not letting it lapse into “lonely/smart special-needs girl melts cold hearts” trap. “Justine” rarely touches us that way. And the confrontations — with mean kids and their “Are you like, retarded?” mouthing off at the park, Lisa vs the “What kind of people ARE you?” parents — are strictly pro forma.

But the performances are just winning enough to lead us down this familiar, formulaic path, one more time. And Turman, as he has pretty much every time the role is worthy of his talents, stands out, giving “Justine” that extra dose of humanity and heart that makes it worth your while.

2half-star6

MPAA Rating: TV-MA, profanity

Cast: Stephanie Turner, Daisy Prescott, Darby Stanfield, Josh Stamberg, Bridget Kallal, Ravi Cabot-Conyers  and Glynn Turman

Credits: Written and directed by Stephanie Turner. A Netflix Original.

Running time: 1:46

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Movie Review: Daddario and Johnny Knoxville — “We Summon the Darkness”

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The trouble with “big twist” thrillers is that you’ve got to have a lot more than twist going for you. Otherwise, the rest of the movie just feels perfunctory.

“We Summon the Darkness” is a Satanic murder cult tale that might have worked as a horror comedy.  I mean, Johnny Knoxville‘s in it. And horror fans are known for laughing at inventively-staged slaughter.

But the emphasis is on formula and tedium in this “Weren’t things great in ’88?” bust.

Three heavy metal chicks, played by Alexandra Daddario, Maddie Hasson and Amy Forsyth, are road tripping through Indiana to a 1988 concert when they run into three svan bros (Logan Miller, Keean Johnson, Austin Swift) at the show.

It’s been established that the girls “can fend for ourselves,” that there’s a “Satanic murder cult” on the loose, that a TV preacher (Knoxville) is always inveighing against heavy metal in his sermons, and that these three stoners the girls have just met are boors.

But as they all banter about Ozzy and the death of Randy Rhoads, “hair metal” and how Metallica just isn’t the same “since Dave Mustaine was fired,” a bond is formed, a “Let’s party” vibe established.

And then? “You guys wanna play a GAME?” “Never Have I Ever” it is. That’s when it all goes down.

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Daddario, the hardest working woman in show business, gives fair value as a leather vixen of the Big Hair era, and Hasson (TV’s “Mr. Mercedes”) makes a convincing Madonna-wannabe.

Nobody else in the cast stands out, even when the script sets them up to be.

The draw here, the element of the project that probably attracted Daddario, Knoxville, Johnson (“Alita: Battle Angel”) and the rest, was director Marc Meyers, of “My Friend Dahmer” and this month’s all-star drama “Human Capital.”

But “Darkness” plays like a quick paycheck picture in the Meyers canon. It sort of mopes along, a flatfooted formula film that never picks up the pace, amps up the action or finds the potential fun in the subject matter.

Every plot element is a way-past-expiration trope of the genre, with no new spin to make it fresh or new. Young people packed in a Jeep Cherokee for the obligatory stop at the creepy rural convenience store? The house party in a remote locale where no one can hear the screams or gunshots?

Yawn.

It’s not awful, not “so bad it’s good,” either. Take away the “twist,” which you’ve guessed and which anybody seeing the trailer or even the poster could figure out, and “We Summon the Darkness” only summons tedium.

MPAA Rating: R for bloody violence, pervasive language, some drug use and sexual references

Cast: Alexandra Daddario, Maddie Hasson, Amy Forsyth, Logan Miller, Keean Johnson, Austin Swift and Johnny Knoxville.

Credits: Directed by Marc Meyers, script by Alan Treza . A Saban Entertainment release.

Running time:

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Classic Film Review: Taking another sip of “Whisky Galore!”

Nowadays, there’d be a credit at the beginning of the Ealing Studios classic, “Whisky Galore!”

“Inspired by a true story.”

But nobody’s needed that rider on this most Scottish of comedies. The people who know that true whisky is spelled without an “e” know that this Alexander Mackendrick farce “feels” true, hews close to the national identity as whisky inventors and whisky drinkers.

In short, If the stereotype fits, it must be wit.

I hadn’t seen this beloved comedy, beautifully restored for a new Blu-ray issue, since my grad school film society days. But it’s aging well, a gentle reminder of comedy before the coarseness that set in 20 years ago, a movie that inspired the likes of “Waking Ned Devine” and “A Fish Called Wanda,” “Local Hero” and quirky character romps the world over.

The story — freighter carrying 50,000 crates of fine Scottish whiskies to Allied troops fighting abroad shipwrecks off the Scottish Isle of Todday, so far north that “to the West, nothing but America” remains.

The locals, dry for four years of World War, no longer “The tightest little island in the world,” spring into action. They’ll row out and salvage the abandoned wreck.

But “Not on the Sabbath.” Oh now. Midnight Sunday it is, then.

The fly in the Scottish ointment? That would be Captain Waggett (Basil Radford), the scarred WWI vet who heads the local “Home Guard,” a drills-happy martinet who figures its his duty to guard the wreck and help the government recover the supplies, or contraband.

Come on, now. It’s 1943. The threat of German invasion is long past, the war has turned against Gerry. And the fishermen, shopkeepers, cranky doctor (James Robertson Justice) and momma’s boy teacher (Gordon Jackson) have been good — for so long.

Spare us a dram, man!

With a comedy this old, the laughs are comfort food, the giggles coming from the cheek-pinching adorability of the character “types,” officialdom “foiled” in its pursuit of “rules” and “orders.”

For a film fan, there aren’t many black and white comedies as beautifully shot as this, with gorgeous “day for night” shots, each a work of art.

Mackendrick went on to film “The Sweet Smell of Success,” one of the late glories of Hollywood black and white cinema, and “The Ladykillers,” another delirious romp from the first Golden Age of British comedy.

3half-star

MPAA Rating: unrated, alcohol use and abuse.

Cast: Basil Radford, Joan Greenwood, James Robertson Justice, Henry Mollison and Gordon Jackson. Narrated by Finlay Currie.

Credits: Directed by Alexander MakKendrick, script by Angus MacPhail and Compton MacKenzie, based on Mackenzie’s book.  A Film Movement release.

Running time:

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Netflixable? In Barcelona, watch out for “The Occupant” who had your swank apartment before you

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Two things we’ve been conditioned to expect from the “slow-burn thriller” is that it A) IGNITE at some point, and B) have a certain logic to it.

The Spanish drama “The Occupant” doesn’t want to play by those rules. It simmers towards a boil that takes an awful long time coming. And the motives in the beginning and bizarre leaps the plot takes make you wonder when we are ever going to get “there,” and when we abruptly arrive, how we got “here.”

It’s a genre piece, another story of what the newly-employed middle aged professional man does, in secret, when his family thinks he’s off restarting his career, working at a new job or at least taking classes.

Javier Gutiérrez (“Assassin’s Creed”) stars as a Javier Muñoz, a 50ish family man who has had a successful career in advertising, emphasis on “had.” He’s been out of work for a year, has a hard time finessing the reasons for that in job interviews.

And in the capture-the-youth-market world he’s made his mark in, he cannot hide the grey hair or hidebound nature of his portfolio.

If we think the final humiliation will be the offer of job that turns out to be three month “unpaid” internship, we aren’t reckoning on how life is shrinking back home.

Wife Marga (Ruth Díaz of “The Skin of the Wolf”) has to take a job in retail. She suggests they sell his BMW. He wants to reassure his teen son that he can keep going to the uniformed private school he attends. The kid is resigned to giving that up. They can move to an old family apartment in a more modest building, and give up the posh place with its stunning view of the city.

And then there’s the maid, who weeps at being let go, then turns furious. No night school class/motivational seminar is going to make all this go away.

But he still has the keys to their old place, still has access to the parking garage. Damned if Javier doesn’t start ducking into the old place — raiding the fridge, using the toilet, and hacking into the family computer.

The more he does this, the deeper into messing with their lives he gets. Poisoning a neighbor’s dog who barks every time he shows up tells us how far gone this guy is.

Does he get his jollies, discovering new “occupant” Tomás (Mario Casas of “The 33”) is a recovering alcoholic, that he had a bad car wreck, that he is probably on a short leash with his wife (Bruna Cusí) and little girl?

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That’s a big question left unanswered in this Alex and David Pastor (“Carriers”) film. What is Javier’s game, and what — aside from the flimsy obvious motivation — is driving him?

Without having a handle on that, we’re disinterested observers in Javier’s schemes, his manipulations and those who might get wise to what’s going on and manipulate him.

You can appreciate how this or that piece of foreshadowing plays out, how he ingratiates himself into these new lives and how he avoids this trap or sets that one.

But the script and characterization never let us invest in this character, or any other. Maybe we fear for this or that hapless victim. Maybe we root for “The Occupant” to finish whatever his sinister scheme is.

But when the slow burn is this slow coming to a boil, it’s a lot easier to just shrug and move on to a thriller that makes more sense.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: TV-MA, violence, sexual situations, profanity

Cast: Javier Gutiérrez, Mario Casas, Bruna Cusí, Ruth Díaz

Credits: Written and directed by David Pastor, Àlex Pastor. A Netflix original.

Running time: 1:43

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Movie preview:”Coffee & Kareem,” a cop-kid buddy comedy with Ed Helms & Taraji P Henson

No, Taraji doesn’t play the kid. She’s the foul mouthed child’s brassy mama. April 3 on Netflix.

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Movie Review: Time traveling cruise ship assassins discover we’re all on the “Same Boat”

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“Same Boat” is a little no-budget sci-fi comedy that walks that uneasy line between “deadpan” and “half-assed.”

It reaches for droll and dabbles in humanity. But the laughs are few and far between in this travelogue/cruise ship misadventure that seems more promising as the starting point for a remake.

In the future, time travel has been solved and time traveling assassins are sent back to this or that point from the past to prevent some calamity from visiting the planet by killing those most responsible for it.

“Results,” we are told in an opening credit, “have been mixed.”

Thus we find mop-topped James (director and co-writer Chris Roberti) and his apprentice Mot (Julia Schonberg) on a beach interrupting honeymooners. The killers whip out their little liquidation/mission-status gadgets — which look like ear thermometers — and commence to cleanse the future.

But but…”we work in TELEVISION!” the groom protests. Yes, it’s 1989 and the killers have come to snuff-out the inventors of “reality TV” and prevent the damage it does to civilization, culture, politics and the planet.

That’s as funny as this conceit gets, as the rest of the film is set on a cruise ship where an assignment goes terribly wrong.

Because Mot gets sea sick and is confined to her cabin. And James, who could take care of this on his own, no prob — is smitten by this flirtatious fellow passenger Lilly (Tonya Glanz).

She’s just heartlessly broken up with her dopey/needy boyfriend Rob (Evan Kaufman).  She, and it turns out James, have all this time to kill, all these buffets to gorge, shore trips to Key West and Cozumel to do and nobody to do them with.

Except each other. And there is, of course, a complication. Which you’ve already guessed.

The moral dilemma of the work of killing “nice people” is dismissed with a “They’re bad for humanity, not bad people. There’s a difference.”

No enough is made of James’ unique perspective — consoling the semi-suicidal Rob and others by urging them to enjoy “this golden age…the twilight of America!”

James knows.

The characters could be darker and more interesting, and the killers absolutely have to be more fanatically-committed to the mission for there to be a “journey” that they make towards redemption.

Nobody here has much of an arc. Lilly needs to be closer to beyond salvation for her journey to be engaging. She’s all, Key West? “It seems nice.”

“Yeah, until the oceans rise,” James prophesies. Which Lilly doesn’t buy.

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Instead Roberti (pictured above being shady, an “officially-approved” still from the movie, if you can believe that) relies on cruise ship gags and supporting players to deliver the laughs.

The ribald, rude and randy crew, Rob in his manic post-breakup state, etc., put more effort into wringing a laugh from this than the leads.

The principals take their cue from the director-star, who is funny once or twice — a drunken karaoke duet on “House of the Rising Sun” — but mostly just a bland void around which the others and the movie revolve.

Funnier lines, more sharply-defined characters, higher stakes in the whole “Who lives/who dies?” game and darker twists would make “Same Boat” float instead of sink.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: unrated, some violence, profanity, sexual situations

Cast: Chris Roberti, Tonya Glanz, Julia Schonberg, Evan Kaufman

Credits: Directed by Chris Roberti, script by Josh Itzowitz and Chris Roberti. A Dark Star (VOD, streaming April 7) release.

Running time: 1:23

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Netflixable? A mother looks for answers about Long Island’s “Lost Girls”

“Lost Girls” is a moody, atmospheric but oddly unemotional mystery about exactly what the title implies — “lost girls.”

It’s a “true crime” missing persons police procedural seen almost wholly from the point of view of missing young woman’s mother, given a grounded, grim working class pragmatism by Amy Ryan (“Gone Baby Gone,” “Late Night”).

That’s because the police in this “police procedural” are revealed as disinterested, lazy, uncaring and occasionally lucky. Which is no way to solve a serial killer case.

Mari Gilbert (Ryan) is a single mom working two jobs to keep a nice roof over her teen daughters’ (Thomasin McKenzie of “Leave no Trace,” Oona Laurence of “Big Time Adolescence”) heads, happy on hearing that her third daughter, Sharon, is coming to dinner.

Only Sharon is a no-show. That’s not wholly out of character for the “diva,” and that odd call from a man claiming to be a doctor who says he tried to “help her” is dismissed, out of hand.

“She hasn’t lived here since she was 12,” her mother blurts out.

But Mari, showing just a hint of alarm, gets her back up at every police brush-off when she tries to file a missing persons report. And the Suffolk Co. detective (Dean Winters, “Mr. Mayhem” in those auto insurance commercials) who leaves no doubt that he’s judging “sex worker” Sharon and the mother who didn’t raise her really gets Mari’s goat.

She starts doing the cops’ work for them — grilling the “boyfriend” (pimp), tracking down the “driver” who delivered her to a client in a beachside gated community way down Long Island.

And Mari REALLY gets bent when the word “hooker” pops up, when the embattled police commissioner she leans on (Gabriel Byrne) lectures her about what happens “when girls like this go missing” in the “high risk environment” they’re working in. Sometimes they disappear without a trace.

“Luck” enters the picture when the cops stumble across shallow graves — young women buried. And even though Sharon wasn’t one of them, even though Mari assures her other daughters that “we’re not like them” when other parents of missing sex worker daughters start holding vigils, piling onto the no-answers-yet police in the media, a support group forms, amplifying all their voices.

Ryan makes Mari somebody who has all but choked-off emotions when it comes to Sharon. But her other daughters suffer from this treatment, too. They sense the backstory behind Mom’s double-edged warning — “The choices you make catch up to you.”

The screenplay drifts into docu-drama detail as a disgruntled local (Kevin Corrigan) fills her and us in on what’s “really” going on, and who the leading suspect must be in tony Oak Beach.

Another character, the sister (Lola Kirke) of another victim, is introduced to add details on “the life” to Mari and the story. Kim “got her” sister into prostitution, and knows the ropes and risks.

The emotionally available McKenzie occasionally reminds us of what director Liz Garbus left out of “Lost Girls,” the pathos and heartbreak. This isn’t just a story of a mother looking for answers. She’s looking to atone for whatever guilt she feels about her daughter’s fate, desperate to “bring her home,” lashing out at those who aren’t helping but smothering her grief, and the movie’s, in the process.

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MPAA Rating: R for language throughout

Cast: Amy Ryan, Thomasin McKenzie, Oona Laurence,  Lola Kirke, Dean Winters and Gabriel Byrne.

Credits: Directed by Liz Garbus, script by Michael Werwie, based on the Robert Kolker book.  A Netflix Original.

Running time: 1:35

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Best thing on Twitter? Actors reading Shakespeare’s sonnets — and not just Patrick Stewart

I like John Carroll Lynch’s cinematic (cell phone) takes on the sonnets.

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Documentary Review: The world changed at “Crip Camp,” and Netflix has the movie that proves it

It was the summer of Woodstock, and just up the Catskills from the revolutionary Bethel (Saugerties) festival of art and music, Jim LeBrecht was encountering people just like himself, in large numbers, for the first time.

He was born with Spina Bifida, and “the barriers” to his life were “all over the place,” even in New York. But at this long-established summer camp, Camp Jened, which had found its true purpose just a few summers before, barriers disappeared, young people like himself experienced freedom, fun and the camaraderie of a shared struggle — being disabled.

They met, talked and played in a camp “filled with disabled people, run by hippies.”

And in this “Utopian” atmosphere, they fell in love, found common purpose and changed their outlook on what the world be could like.

“This camp changed the world,” declares LeBrecht, a veteran sound designer for theater and sound mixer for movies, co-director of “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution.”

That’s a bold claim for a film you’re both in and co-directed. But damned if “Crip Camp” doesn’t prove that thesis in 100 upbeat, focused and outspoken minutes. It’s a feel-great movie arriving at just the time we could use one.

It was a project that spun out of “the social experimentation of the times,” then-director Larry Allison remembered (in an archival interview). Camp Jened was a place where polio survivors, “CP’s” (cerebral palsy) and assorted paraplegics, quadriplegic teens, deaf and otherwise “disabled” kids could be in a place where they weren’t “freaks.”

“At camp, everybody had something going on with their body. It was no big deal.”

And the realization that life didn’t have to be a losing struggle against unfriendly people and unfriendly buildings, streets without ramps and train stations without elevators, was Earth shattering for these young people.

Led by camp alumnus Judy Heumann, who sued first New York state and then led sit-ins across the country, they proceeded to “change the world.”

Doubt that phrase at your own peril, even if you’re too young to remember an America before The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, and the other laws and fiercely resisted progress that preceded it.

Judy is our tour guide through many of those years, here, but other alumni speak up and talk of how their lives changed, camp counselors speak of what they experienced at Camp Jened and how they “brought that home with me” to the Deep South, or wherever, after that touchstone summer.

LeBrecht was involved with videotaping (in black and white) the events of that summer, and the film uses that footage, along with other camp movies, and decades of archival TV news coverage of Disabled in Action activism — wheelchair-bound protestors shutting down streets, closing government buildings, getting their voices heard.

“Crip Camp” underlines and identifies the alumni, a tiny, dedicated and networked (pre-Internet) band who drove this movement for 20 years until ADA became the law of the land, “equal access” because the default position of America and the pro forma discrimination, segregation and even institutionalization of the “Differently-abled” was beaten back.

In these, America’s darkest days since the Vietnam War, “Crip Camp” is an inspiring, upbeat shaft of light and a sobering reminder that whatever conservatives want to say about the ’60s, every now and then, hippies changed America, and helped America change the world.

3half-star

MPAA Rating: R for some language including sexual references

Cast: Judy Heumann, Jim LeBrecht, Larry Allison, Lionel Woodyard, Denise Sherer Jacobson, many others

Credits: Directed by Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham. A Netflix Original.

Running time: 1:46

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Movie Review: Girls bond over the boy they shared like a “Banana Split”

 

 

“April Love” roars out of the gate in “Banana Split,” a romance that begins, progresses sexually and socially through two years of high school and comes to a crashing halt — all of that encapsulated in the opening credits.

Because it’s what comes AFTER April (Hannah Marks) breaks up with surfer pinup boy Nick (Dylan Sprouse) that’s a lot more interesting. Life is what comes after graduation.

She’s prepping for a cross-country trip to Boston University — college. The film gives us countdowns, “84 Days Until Orientation,” to remind us of that.

And as quickly as Nick moved on, blond bro’s HEAD would spin if he saw how quickly April and his new girl, Clara (Liana Liberato) click. They collide at a house party, bond over “shots” and Junglepussy “Bling Bling” sing-alongs, and “Nick” stories.

“Did he always put his NOSE in your mouth?”

“I know, right? I had to GOOGLE it!”

Just like that, numbers are exchanged and “rules” are established for their friendship.

“Rule number one, no talking about ‘Nick.’ Rule number two, no TELLING Nick!”

“I feel like we’re in FIGHT Club!”

The title may be a tease, sexual slang for a lesbian relationship. But Clara and April click on a whole different level, a bond that may outlast this boy and could outlive every boy to come.

The corporate ethos of the production company American High” lays this vow on you right on their website. They want to “update” the sophisticated teen comedies of John Hughes (“Breakfast Club,” “Sixteen Candles”) and “embrace the R-rated reality of high school” today with their films.

“Banana Split,” like American High’s Hulu film, “Big Time Adolescence,” has teen drinking, teen smoking, modestly explicit teen sex and permissive parenting. The whole “drug” element of “Adolescence” is dispensed with. And the fresher, female-centric point of view makes the weary “coming of age” tropes play.

“Split” is also more charismatically-acted, wittier and funnier, closer to the Hughes films in laughs and the limited role parents play in this world. The only adult we meet is April’s “cool” Mom (Jessica Hecht) who ineptly referees fights between the graduating sister and her obnoxious, foul-mouthed 14 year-old sibling, Agnes (Addison Riecke).

“I am a three dimensional HUMAN BEING,” Mom complains, “who has had sex…and UTIs!” So, listen to your Momma. Right.

Marks co-wrote the script and packs Hannah with both deflated vulnerability about Nick moving on, and epic threats to their mutual friend Ben (Luke Spencer Roberts) so that she can get details about who her ex has taken up with.

“I am going to tell WEIRD stories about you at your funeral so that NO ONE accurately remembers you!”

We get how rare meeting someone compatible can be when you’re too-smart and 18.

“I’m an existentialist.”

“Cool! I love horses TOO!”

Cinematographer (“Safety Not Guaranteed”) turned director Benjamin Kasulke and the American High production team aren’t reinventing the genre so much as giving tried and true themes a fresh, frank edge.

There’s nothing deep in this “Banana Split,” nothing remotely moving or profound. But Marks (TV’s “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency”) and Liberato (“If I Stay”) let us believe these two would connect, push each other’s buttons and bruise each other, and in just that way — just not in the way the title implies.

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MPAA Rating: R for crude sexual content and language throughout, drug and alcohol use — all involving teens.

Cast: Hannah Marks, Liana Liberato, Dylan Sprouse, Luke Spencer Roberts, Addison Riecke and Jessica Hecht

Credits: Directed by Benjamin Kasulke, script by Hannah Marks and Joey Power. An American High/Vertical Entertainment release.

Running time:

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