Thursday, April 7, 2016

A college party movie set in Texas

Director Richard Linklater transitions from Boyhood to college in a movie about partying student athletes.

Director Richard Linklater will be 56 in July. Although he's drifting past middle age, the Austin-based director still seems intrigued by youth, perhaps because it's a period when characters are able to test life's waters and try on different styles.

Linklater spent 12 years working on the masterful Boyhood. Now, he's taking aim at adolescence -- albeit of a particular kind, that of college baseball players at a small Texas school during the early 1980s.

Everybody Wants Some!! takes place during the several days before classes begin; the movie's ballplayers drink, look for sexual adventures and jockey for position in the ramshackle house where they've taken up residence.

It's possible that if anyone but Linklater had made the loosey/goosey Everybody Wants Some!!, it would have been greeted with shrugs, a patchy attempt to chart what happens when an 18-year-old jock (Blake Jenner of Glee fame) arrives at fictional Southeastern Texas State for what he hopes will be a great career as a pitcher.

Equipped with a winning smile, Jenner's Jake easily finds a place among his teammates, crude and raucous ballplayers who might be '80s extensions of the frat boys from Animal House.

A bit more sensitive than his teammates, Jake eventually establishes a relationship with a theater major (Zoey Deutch).

But Jake also joins his new pals as they try various party modes -- from disco to punk, all set to a strong and nostalgic soundtrack that includes work by The Knack, Patti Smith, Jermain Jackson, Dire Straits, Devo and The Cars.

Standouts in the baseball playing group include Finn (Glen Powell), a pipe smoking student with a relaxed, know-it all manner, and Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), a stoner who proudly sets the record for the school's longest and deepest bong hit.

Willoughby occasionally philosophizes in the manner of the Linklater characters who populated his hang-out movie, Dazed and Confused, which was set during the 70s.

To the movie's credit, Linklater's characters don't exactly qualify as stock figures.

Tyler Hoechlin portrays McReynolds, the cockiest athlete, a power hitter who disdains pitchers and treats them as a lower order of being.

J. Quinton Johnson appears as the team's only black player, a second baseman.

There's also a good-ole country boy (Will Brittain), a young man who looks like he might have skills, but who could evolve into the kind of player who dribbles the juice from chewing tobacco down the front of his jersey.

I've still got enough adolescent in me to have chuckled as Linklater works his way through his plotless helping of dudes in search of a movie but having too good a time to care if they actually find one.

A couple of Linklater's observations are worth noting -- the way these young men turn nearly anything into a competition, for example.

But for the most part, Everybody Wants Some!! is a shambling, rambling look at young people who have yet to become interesting. Judging by the movie, they may never actually achieve that status.

Pointedly, the movie -- which shows very little baseball -- concludes on the first day of classes with Blake and another teammate (Temple Baker) falling asleep moments after the professor arrives. It's meant as a comment, I suppose, but it's not exactly one that shakes off the movie's party-hardy cobwebs.

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