Son of Rambow
Archival footage of Col. Trautman and John Rambo playing as children.

Theatrical Release Date: 04/04/2008 (UK), 05/02/2008 (USA)
Director: Garth Jennings
Cast: Bill Milner, Will Poulter, Jessica Hynes

As we head into the summer blockbuster season, there’s one film that isn’t going to get all of the hype it might deserve, “Son of Rambow”. Maybe it’s because there aren’t any huge Hollywood stars, or any fantastic CGI special effects or that it’s not based on a comic book. However, this has a few elements many of them will be lacking: imagination, heart and smart, intended humor.

The film centers on two boys in early 1980′s England, Will Proudfoot and Lee Carter. Will (Bill Milner) is shy and his family adheres to strict religious beliefs about exposure to the outside word – but his imagination craves much more. Lee suffers from having no parental structure or discipline and constantly acts out at school – but he also has aspirations of doing more with his life.

These opposites attract and form not only a friendship but a production team. They set out to win a local film contest with their newly envisioned “Son of Rambow”. In it, they play the main characters from “First Blood”, the Rambo franchise starter. Using a camcorder, their imagination and whatever materials they have at hand, the pair set out to make an epic action film, sure to win the contest.

Along the way, they gain the help of the apparently hip French exchange student and his new cronies. The subplot involving the school’s reaction to this new student is remarkably funny. Essentially, girls want to be with him, guys want to be him. The school’s role in the film is heightened by clever inclusions of the teaching staff, from Will’s droll, sad-sack of a teacher to a great cameo by Edgar Wright (director of “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead”) as the metal shop teacher.

All of these elements create a wonderful and fertile atmosphere for the film, which blends so many different genres together in a charming and humorous way. What could have been just a cutesy story about two boys bonding, in that kids movie / after school special fashion, has been elevated to a higher level – one that adults will find entertaining and a breath of fresh air in the midst of so many big budget, spectacle films.

There are a few sticking points for me, however. First and foremost, I thought that the sheltered religious beliefs that Will’s family lives by were a bit too much. I realize that the reason was to show just how much of a revelation “First Blood” and the kids at school are to Will but that could have been handled with fewer problematic pitfalls by simply making his mother a strict, rule-abiding taskmaster. Considering there wasn’t too much softening of her as a character (and her actions towards the end seem a little too sudden and drastic), this only served to distract me.

Also, towards the end of the film, the boys get themselves in a little over their head. Obviously, I won’t give it away but suffice to say, I thought the situations were over-the-top and severe in relation to the rest of the film (though maybe not in relation to “First Blood”).

Those peccadilloes were easily trumped though by the rest of the film. The boys’ performances were wonderful, full of humor and warmth. Much of that is due to writer/director Garth Jennings whose script is clever and funny, to go along with a great balance of main and supporting characters to help make the film not seem so myopic.

Additionally, Jenning’s used kid-like, hand-drawn animation to turn Will’s imagination into excellent and funny fantasy sequences. It put that subtle touch of whimsy into the film and was done just right. It’s a shame so many other films involving kids and fantasy elements can’t get this right. (Yes, I’m looking at you “Nim’s Island“.)

I truly enjoyed watching this and hope that this review will let more people in on the fun. I’m giving “Son of Rambow” a 4 out of 5. The charm, imagination and spirit of the film are nearly undeniable and aside from my misgivings about the relevance of the family’s religious situation, there’s not much to nitpick at. It’s just a good, funny, touching film. See it while you can, the summer’s mostly going to be about costumed crusaders, explosions and pot jokes … which have their appeal too … but they probably won’t leave the same, sublime smile on your face.

And make sure to stick around till the end of the credits to find out why “Rambo” is spelled wrong in the film’s title … it isn’t just me forgetting to spell check the review, there’s a reason.