Greetings again from the darkness. This is established Visual Effects artist John J Budion’s first feature film as writer-director, and he likely exorcises some personal demons with a semi-autobiographical look back at his childhood. Set in the summer of 1994 in East Rockaway, New York, the story is told from the perspective of an adult John (Frankie J Alvarez), who narrates his recollections of that year.
Young John (played by Maxwell Apple), a somewhat withdrawn kid, hero worships brash New York Knicks guard John Starks to the point that he wears a Starks jersey almost non-stop. The two are polar opposite personalities, and the only one who really understands John’s obsession is his protective older brother Anthony (Keidrich Sellati, Henry from “The Americans”). Why does John need Anthony’s protection? Well that’s due to their abusive father (Wass Stevens, THE WRESTLER) who is bitter and angry most of the time – and takes it out on the boys and their mother (Marjan Neshat).
The brothers share two wishes: a championship for their beloved Knicks and a more peaceful living environment without their abusive father. They are so focused on the latter that they’ve created a scheme to “off” the angry dad – this despite their mother’s promise to take them away from it all as soon as she finds work in another city.
It’s about this time when John and Anthony meet some other neighborhood boys, and what follows is the easy camaraderie of kids when no parents are polluting the moment (an ideal that seems quite antiquated in this day and age). Billy (a standout Harrison Wittmeyer) is the mature-beyond-his years leader, Dom (James DiGiamcomo) is the unathletic jokester, Brian (Tanner Flood) is the brainy one, and Sal (Colin Critchley) is the motor-mouthed preener. The boys share a love of sports and the fine art of needling each other with sharp cut-downs. In other words, they are kids being kids, and this escapism opens up a new world for Anthony and John.
It’s a coming of age story with obvious comparisons to STAND BY ME and THE SANDLOT, and though not at the level of either of those classics, it does feature some fine nostalgic moments of childhood. The film suffers a bit from an ending that’s overly sappy and clean, though kudos to all involved if this is true to their life. It’s certainly a stretch for most. Adults are more likely than kids to find appeal here, and the film might have benefited from a better exploration of what drove the dad to such extremes.