Almost Kings, previously known as The Wheeler Boys, was winner of the Netflix ‘Find Your Voice’ competition and is now getting a home cinema release courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures. Almost Kings has a plot that on the face of it sounds largely at odds with the intensity of the movie you watch – as he reaches high school maths geek Ted (Lorenzo James Henrie) tries to live up to the spectacle of his older brother, Truck (Alex Ross, perhaps best known for being terrifying in Gus Van Sant’s Elephant), who is perceived as cooler and more popular surrounded by his gang of ‘Kings’ (a mixture between the cool kids, jocks, and the perpetual screw offs from every American high school movie ever made). In trying to become like his brother he succumbs to a world of partying, alcohol, and as it unravels malevolence, violence, deception, and betrayal.
There are moments when the movie flirts with being a trivial teen comedy, the central plot revolves around the idea of sleeping with as many freshman girls as possible, but unlike the jovial frivolity that might be found in that concept had this been a John Hughes movie or similar, Almost Kings opts for an ever diminishing spiral of dark drama. Director and co-writer Philip G. Flores has made an intense depiction of high school, and familial, anxieties tinged with realism (if slightly exaggerated).
Truck’s ‘Kings’ are of course patently obnoxious, that is how they are meant to be, we’re supposed to feel a mix of admiration for them that quickly becomes disgust at the things that they do, and encourage in others. Hass (played by Alex Russell who you might recognise from the recent hit Chronicle) in particular typifies the kind of self-entitled jack ass that can uniformly be found in the American high school movie setting. Truck himself is a bit of an enigma, his character flits backwards and forwards from being a protective older brother, fiancee, and future father to a reckless, violent, selfish, cesspool of teenage hormones and immorality – at one point he encourages Ted to essentially rape a passed out drunk girl.
However, while that is all true, the film is by no means without it’s flaws, it can be a bit slow which is exaggerated by the overall tone of despair. The ‘game’ of sleeping with as many girls as possible spills over into Ted’s academic world, as does his partying and he transforms, or at least plays at doing so, from the innocent studious boy from the beginning to a mirror of his brother. It’s his character that is the most annoying, his kamikaze mission to destroy all the relationships around him is at times painful to watch – not always because it’s intended to be, but because the movie feels like a bit of a chore to watch.
Russell and Henrie give decent, and believable, performances as the leads as do the rest of the supporting cast. Intense is, overall, the best way to describe Almost Kings, and indeed as it marks Flores’s first feature movie (always a notably difficult, often faltering, first step) it bodes well for his career that the movie feels, if not great, coherent and well assembled.
Almost Kings is out on DVD June 12.