One of the similes I keep handy in my back pocket is the formula "[film] overuses [word] like a 12-year-old boy who's just learned to swear, and can't think of anything funnier" (presented with modifications, of course, but if you keep an eye out for it, you'll see that 12-year-old boys come in for a lot of abuse in my writing). And the universe has apparently noticed my rhetorical laziness, because I am now being punished with Good Boys, a movie that is literally, about nothing else other than 12-year-old boys swearing. And it cannot think of anything funnier. Wait, I lie! It is also funny (says the film) when 12-year-old boys are completely befuddled by the trappings of adult sex, whether it's anilingus in pornography or pubic hairs caked with semen on the mouth of a sex doll. Because, you see, the 12-year-old boys constantly think about sex, but they actually haven't the slightest idea of what sex consists of. This is called incongruity, and it is central to many theories of how comedy works.

I shall remain optimistic that Good Boys will never become central to any theory of how comedy works. Did you laugh at the thing where I talked about the caked pubic hairs? It's okay if you did, we can't all like the same things. If you didn't, I think you can probably safely assume that you won't laugh at anything else. I sure didn't. In fact, I think that Good Boys marks the least that I've laughed at any movie (twice, and one of those was really more of a vocalised smirk) since the epochally awful Year One all the way back in 2009. This seems like a particularly important fun fact, because Year One was the very first produced screenplay for the writing team of Lee Eisenberg & Gene Stupnitsky, and Good Boys is the third (their middle film was 2011's Bad Teacher, which in context looks like an outright masterpiece of comic cinema). Stupnitsky is also making his directorial debut with this project, and he directs like he writes: with an eye towards making things as obvious and predictable as possible, dispensing with all the hard work of processing punchlines and then reacting to them with delighted surprise, in favor of merely having the film place the word "fuck" into a child's mouth yet again, so we can enjoy the shameless naughtiness of a film that has just figured out, in 2019, that kids say the darnedest things.

The film has been produced by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, who've made a career out of minuscule variations on this formula: three parts filthy jokes, one part bro hugs and tacky canned sentiment, and top it off with slapdash improvisation and riffing that makes for a film that hasn't been "written" so much as "accreted". Even by those standards, though, Good Boys is deliriously free of any real structure. It has a plot, sure: best friends Max (Jacob Tremblay, whose career didn't need this as much as it needs him), Thor (Brady Noon), and Lucas (Keith L. Williams) want to make sure that sixth grade gets off to the best possible start, which for Max means getting an invite for the three of them to go to a spin-the-bottle party. Since none of the three know how to kiss, they decide to use a drone to spy on Max's next-door neighbor Hannah (Molly Gordon); she manages to capture the drone, and long story short, the boys have to make the epic trek four miles to the local mall in order to buy a new one before Max's dad (Will Forte) gets home from a business trip.

It's unreasonably messy - I have overlooked entire subplots in scratching out that summary - and worse yet, it lacks any sort of flow. Stupnitsky & Eisenberg simply place various ideas for awkward comic setpieces in a line, and come up with fairly modest, ineffective connective tissue to move from one to another. It is wholly shapeless filmmaking, with the editing conspicuously failing to erase the fact that this footage was shot without any real eye towards continuity: often as simple as trying to tape two lines of dialogue together involves such a tangible shift in energy and rhythm that it barely seems like the characters are played by the same humans, let alone that they're occurring in the same room at the same time.

The single best example of how brazenly Good Boys fails to cohere at all comes all the way at the end, so I will have to beg your pardon and put in a SPOILER ALERT, though I also don't think you can spoil something that's already rotted. Anyway, the film ends exactly the way these Rogen/Goldberg joints end: the boys realise that their continued growth demands that they gently drift apart from each other, and the penultimate scene is blocked to maximise this drifting. They move in three different directions, towards three different new friend groups, and it is probably meant to be sweet or whatever, if you've had more success than I did in forging any sort of emotional connection to these characters. And then Thor shouts out, basically with no more elegance than this: "oh wait, we have one more gag to do", and then they all head into his house to play with his parents' sex swing. It is the most transparent case I can imagine of completely discarding any scrap of story logic in favor of plugging a dirty joke into the movie at a point that has been chosen, seemingly by an algorithm, as appropriate for another joke. It's completely nonsensical, and the joke's not even good: "boys don't realise a sex swing is for sex" is the joke, unless you consider the music cue and lighting to also be jokes, which seems much too generous. Also, it's the most arbitrarily-edited bullshit.

The other key gag that typifies for me how hopeless Good Boys is comes most of the way towards the start, when Max is dry-humping his bed while looking at the large breasts on the video game orc-woman avatar he's just created. Forte comes in and gives him a sly little laugh before backing away. And that's okay, and cute enough: dad realises that his son is jacking off, and lets it get just awkward enough for the son to feel the full horror of that moment. But then the movie explains the joke: Forte is saddled with a doozy of a line about "masturbating sexually". Not masturbating. Masturbating sexually. I am apparently a huge square, because I didn't realise there was another kind. But the greater sin is not against English, but against the international language of comedy: the sly grin sold the joke already, having the dad follow it up by clarifying that he has discerned his son's sexual habits does nothing other than choke it to death.

Anyway, between those two things - over-explaining the jokes that aren't shit, and randomly hopscotching from joke to joke without the slightest concern for character or story logic - Good Boys doesn't have a prayer. Add in the witlessly juvenile tenor of all the jokes, and I do mean all of them, and we're left with one of the most wretched comedies I have seen in an extremely long time. It is, I truly think, emblematic of all the worst that contemporary studio comedy cinema has to offer, and if that gives it some value as a diagnostic tool, I nonetheless can't think of any value it possesses as entertainment.