The premise of the new Netflix movie The Sleepover, directed by Trish Sie, should sound familiar to anyone who’s watched Spy Kids: Kids think parents are boring, parents suddenly get kidnapped, kids discover parents’ action-packed other life, kids set out on a rescue mission. There are a few twists on the formula, but the biggest difference between The Sleepover and Spy Kids is that, in The Sleepover, the parents are the compelling characters.
Malin Åkerman and Ken Marino star as Margot and Ron Finch, a stay-at-home mom and a pastry chef whose kids Clancy (Sadie Stanley) and Kevin (Maxwell Simkins) see them as total squares. Clancy, who wants to become a professional cellist (but more importantly to attend a party thrown by the boy she has a crush on) resents her mother for not letting her have a cellphone. The reason for Margot’s strict rules soon becomes clear when a viral video of Kevin dancing attracts the attention of shady figures from Margot’s past life.
When Margot and Ron are kidnapped on the very same night that Kevin is having a sleepover with his neurotic friend Lewis (Lucas Jaye), and Clancy plans to sneak out to the party with her friend Mimi (Cree Cicchino), the four kids are forced to band together to get Margot and Ron back. This is where one of the other big differences kicks in: Margot had a past life as a master thief, but Ron really is just a pastry chef. The revelation that Margot isn’t who she says she is hits him just as hard as it does their children, if not harder given that their kidnappers want her to re-team with her old boyfriend Leo (Joe Manganiello) to pull off one last job.
Ron’s struggle with the spark that still exists between his wife and the ultra-hunky Leo sends The Sleepover veering into romantic comedy territory, and Marino steps up to turn a largely thankless role into the movie’s most interesting subject. The kids get more jokes and gags — an unintentional viral moment does nothing to dampen Kevin’s spirits — but the adults just have more going on, and more chances for genuine laughs. The kids settle for forced moments like Kevin’s euphoria at feeling a boob for the first time and Lewis’ pee-detecting underwear.
Speaking of pee-detecting underwear, Lewis is the most grating aspect of the film. It’s unclear as to whether Sarah Rothschild’s script called for Lewis and his mother (Marissa Carpio) to be Asian, but her overprotective, tiger-mom nature comes across as an unfortunate stereotype, as do Lewis’ vocal adherence to the rules his mother has set and his nerdy nature. That he doesn’t feature in the adults’ storyline only makes sticking with the grown-ups that much more appealing. Of the kids, Simkins stands out. His acting is (almost always) the most natural, and he’s a startlingly good dancer, which makes the forced plot device of the viral video a little easier to let slide.
But Marino steals the show. He’s admirably committed to a part that mostly demands for him to humiliate himself by vomiting and pooping in public, and pretend that he isn’t a perfectly handsome guy. Manganiello also acquits himself well in a role that, were The Sleepover a blockbuster and not a Netflix original, would probably have been played by Chris Hemsworth, showing off comic chops that have, to date, been underutilized.
Everything about The Sleepover is perfectly serviceable for a comedy for the whole family. There’s no overt fantasy element present the way there is in Spy Kids (remember the Thumb-Thumbs?), nor are there any notable twists, and the constant switching between adult and kid storylines, while perhaps enough to keep audience members of both ages entertained, has the effect of making both feel a little thin. In other words, it’s just enough entertainment to provide fodder for one diverting sleepover, but it’ll be forgotten as soon as the morning dawns.
The Sleepover is streaming on Netflix now.