The creators of the sentimental coming-of-age film Son Of Rambow can go ahead and make that check out to Wes Anderson, care of Rushmore Academy, with a portion of the residuals due to Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie) and his signature Rube Goldberg setpieces. Or at least a producer's credit for Rushmore character Max Fischer, whose homemade stage productions of Serpico and Heaven And Earth have a child-like visual stamp that carries over into Rambow's grade-school take on Sylvester Stallone's famed vigilante. Director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith—the team better known as "Hammer & Tongs"—made a name for themselves in music videos, but much like their uneven adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, the film works better in sequences than as a whole, and suffers from an overly familiar homemade aesthetic.
Son Of Rambow centers on the tentative friendship between two outcast kids in early-'80s England. As part of a strict, fundamentalist "Plymouth Brethren" family, Bill Milner is protected from the corrupting influence of movies, TV shows, and music, so he channels his imagination into little sketches and doodles. For a weakling like him, school bully Will Poulter seems like a natural enemy, but Poulter loves making movies with his video camera, and the two find some creative common ground. When Poulter exposes Milner to a videotaped copy of First Blood—the inspiration for his latest production—the less-experienced boy is overwhelmed by what he sees and quickly agrees to be Poulter's stuntman and chief collaborator. Their relationship changes, however, when a French foreign-exchange student (Jules Sitruk) arrives at school, placing a transfixing, Pied Piper-like hold on everyone he meets.
The shooting of the movie-within-a-movie offers the brightest moments in Son Of Rambow, a testament to the innocence of the boys' creative impulse and the sheer unlikely pleasure of their friendship. Whether they're pulling off some complicated stunt or improvising their way around Milner's family, they have to invent solutions on the fly, and Jennings celebrates their spontaneity and resourcefulness. But the film goes soft in its second half, as whimsy gives way to out-and-out sentimentality, and the world around these boys—the too-cute French-student subplot, the cardboard-thin portraits of their families—reveals little more depth than the one in their thumb-sucking Stallone movie. Along with Rushmore's precocious amateurism, Jennings and company might have done well to borrow some subtext, too.