Thursday, August 29, 2013

I Declare War: Kids Get Their War On

War—what is it good for?  At least it gets these brats out of the house.  That will be a blessing for their parents.  Unfortunately, the youngsters will have to endure the ridiculously simplistic tactics of allegorical cinema in Jason Lapeyre & Robert Wilson’s I Declare War (trailer here), which opens tomorrow at the Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers.

Completely free of adult supervision, a group of kids play regular capture the flag war games in the forest near their exurban homes.  PK is a young war movie junkie who has always commanded his troops to victory.  He finally thinks he has met a worthy opponent in Quinn, who clearly shares PK’s understanding of military strategy, until the promising general is fragged by his own troops.  Having captured PK’s best friend Kwon, the resentful Skinner was not about to squander an opportunity for some score-settling.

Initially, we see the kids trudging about with crude makeshift stick-and-twine guns, but soon they are replaced with very real looking assault weaponry.  They sound like the real deal too, but no actual blood is shed during their skirmishes, aside from their grenades (balloons filled with red paint).  However, there is nothing imaginary about the pain Skinner inflicts on Kwon.

Yes, it is jarring to watch young kids toting assault rifles and blasting away at each other, allowing fantasies to intrude on ostensive reality, but after half an hour or so, we just so get the point already.  Frustratingly, the film does not really have anything left in reserve after these initial shocks.  Arguably, it might have been a more engaging film if Lapeyre and Wilson had embraced the story of a truly epic capture the flag contest rather than tried to remake Lord of the Flies again.

To their credit, Declare’s young ensemble is completely credible and fully committed to their roles.  On the downside, their characters are never very well fleshed out.  Basically, we have PK, the slight of stature general with a Napoleon complex, Kwon, the loyal best friend, their resentful loser nemesis, as well as the scheming chick, the annoying kid, the other annoying kid, and the other other annoying kid.

Declare is a compelling example of detailed world building at the child’s eye level.  It sort of resembles what it might look like if Full Metal Jacket broke out in the middle of Moonrise Kingdom.  Despite the strength of its ground game, the film is still saddled by the clunkiness of its teaching moments and the blandness of most of its characters.  For those intrigued by the provocative imagery, I Declare War opens tomorrow (8/30) at select Alamo Drafthouses nationwide, including Yonkers in New York and Littleton in Colorado.