There’s virtually nothing in writer/director Taika Waititi’s (What We Do in the Shadows) rambunctious comedy that isn’t built on formula, but when a formula is this well-executed, it’s awfully hard to complain. In rural New Zealand, 13-year-old foster kid Ricky (Julian Dennison) gets what may be his last chance at a home when he’s taken in by Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her crusty husband Hec (Sam Neill). But when Bella dies, Ricky and Hec are left alone—and improbably become fugitives when Hec is suspected of foul play in Bella’s death. Neill and Dennison make for a terrific pair, riffing off the familiar premise of a surly adult reluctantly (but ultimately gratefully) dragged into surrogate parenting. But it really soars thanks to Waititi’s off-beat sense of humor, like turning a child welfare agent into a relentless pseudo-Javert, comparing herself to The Terminator while also repeating the mantra “no child left behind.” It may be utterly weightless, and starts to drag a bit as its premise wears thin, but there’s always room in the world for something that nails effervescent silliness.
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