Middle schooler Kevin (Maxwell Simkins) is prone to exaggeration, cooking up fanciful lies to sell to his family, his friends, even his teachers, all the better to imagine a world in which his suburban life isn’t quite so boring. Case in point: Trish Sie’s “The Sleepover,” which follows Kevin and his seemingly cookie-cutter family, opens with young Kevin regaling his class with a beloved tale of his own family history. It is, in actuality, the plot of the Ridley Scott film “The Martian.” That Kevin’s life is actually about to become much crazier than he could possibly dream of is just one of the many generic charms of Sie’s film, a family-friendly action-comedy fit for the entire clan, but never ambitious enough to break out of its strictly set tropes.
Kevin may be a ham, but his big sister Clancy (Sadie Stanley) can’t help but be jealous of her sibling’s ability to embrace his silly self — Kevin is the kind of kid who can put on a full-scale dance performance in a school bathroom, just for the fun of it — because she’s too scared to break out of her “band geek” shell. Still, neither sibling can shake the feeling that just nothing is happening in their lives, beyond their wacky best pals and regular school drama. Their dad Ron (Ken Marino) is a dweeby pastry chef, and their mom Margot (Malin Akerman) is so uptight she won’t even let 15-year-old Clancy have her own cell phone.
Thank the power of a viral video — that bathroom-set dance which seems bizarre in practice, and that’s before it turns into one heck of a forced plot device — for upending everything. Margot, it turns out, is not just another housewife, but a former super thief who has long been in witness protection, and who is just about to be found out by her old gang. When she and Ron are snatched up and forced to go after a glitzy prize, all alongside Margot’s hunky ex Leo (Joe Manganiello), who has also spent the last 15 years in witness protection (and thinking about Margot the entire time), the kids are suddenly thrust into the role of pint-sized avengers.
Softer and safer than a close cousin like “Adventures in Babysitting,” “The Sleepover” zips between its adult storyline and the wacky hi-jinks of the kids, scarcely noticing it’s the younger set who are far more amusing to watch. Sure, Malin Akerman kicking butt in a sparkly gown is fun, and Joe Manganiello trying his damdest to prop up Ken Marino in the throes of scatological nonsense is certainly amusing, but for an ostensible kids movie, “The Sleepover” is unwilling to lean on, well, its kids.
The inevitable bonding that happens between Clancy and Kevin and their respective best friends — a scene-stealing Cree Cicchino as Clancy’s sassy BFF Mim and Lucas Jaye as Kevin’s amusingly uptight bestie Lewis — is pure formula, but that doesn’t mean it’s not sweet to watch unfold. And for all the apparent danger being lobbed at the adults, there’s never any sense that anything bad will happen to the “four spunky kids” (as world-wise Mim brands them), despite the real meanies trying to entrap their parents. It’s cute, and also formulaic and forgettable in a way that, in a franchise-obsessed world, kind of feels refreshing.
Then, of course, it’s just generic. The screenplay, from first-timer Sarah Rothschild, does show some sparks of humor, from a gag centered on Paula Cole’s haunting hit song “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” to just about every joke Cicchino lands with ease, but it’s muffled by a rigid adherence to formula and expectation. Nothing about “The Sleepover” will surprise, and at its best, that’s a comfort; at its worst, it will put you right to sleep.
“The Sleepover” will be available to stream on Netflix on Friday, August 21.