THE WACKNESS (Jonathan Levine). 95 minutes. Opens Friday (July 11). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NN
The Wackness is a coming-of-age movie with a strong directorial vision, a sweet romantic subplot and a solid central performance by Josh Peck. The tween-TV star plays Luke Shapiro, a troubled teen spending the summer of 1994 in sticky, oppressive Manhattan, dealing pot and pining over the wicked-hot Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby), who barely knows he’s alive.
So why the two-N rating? Two words: Ben Kingsley.
As Dr. Squires, a psychotherapist who barters analysis sessions for weed, Kingsley gives one of the most unfortunate performances of his increasingly unstable career – and I’ve seen BloodRayne.
Apparently convinced that his role is equivalent to Robin Williams’s damaged shrink in Good Will Hunting, Kingsley puts a bizarre right-angle spin on every line reading and gesture, doing his best to suggest a man who’s so disconnected from his own life that he barely knows how to communicate with other people. I get what he’s doing; it just doesn’t work.
For the first half of The Wackness, writer-director Jonathan Levine uses Kingsley sparingly, as a foil and father figure for the frustrated, aimless Luke. But when Luke starts spending time with Stephanie – who happens to be Dr. Squires’s stepdaughter – all three characters start vying for screen time.
The scenes between Peck and Thirlby are lovely and surprisingly frank. (Thirlby played Ellen Page’s best friend in Juno and has a similar understated warmth here.) But every time Kingsley barges into the action, the movie spasms with clumsy pathos, choking on his affectations.