Review: 'Rim Of The World'

We live in a time when nearly all the great summer movies are built on the shoulders of familiar characters and well-known intellectual property. I love "Infinity War" or "Detective Pikachu" as much as the next person, but what really excites me is watching a movie with a new world I've never seen before. That sense of discovery gets rarer every year as studios focus on film projects that are already familiar to audiences. 

Not that I blame them entirely for the situation. Going to a movie is expensive and audiences are increasingly reluctant to spend money on an idea that might not jell once it gets to the screen. So each movie season becomes more and more about the familiar and the safe. Our fear weeds out the new and the unexpected.

And that's one of the reasons why I'm happy to see Netflix increasingly stepping up to fund movies that might not otherwise get made. From "Bird Box" and "Roma" to the upcoming "Always Be My Maybe," Netflix is betting that its audience will watch movies that don't feature superheroes or transforming vehicles.

"Rim Of The World" is the latest entry in this Netflix effort and I mean it as a compliment when I say that in another universe, this would be one of the biggest movies of the summer. A throwback to the classic 1980s movies like "The Goonies" or "Stand By Me," "Rim Of The World" is that rare movie that is a comfortably familiar premise wrapped inside an unfamiliar world of new characters.

It begins as all good kids movies begin-with a group of young teen-ish kids being forced to do something against their will. In this case, they're being sent to a summer camp called "Rim Of The World." The characters are a mix of personalities: the space-obsessed and quietly studious Alex, the mysteriously confident Chinese visitor Zhenzhen and the over-the-top wealth-obsessed Dariush. The early camp scenes are interwoven with hints that something is going on in space and you don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to know this isn't a positive development.

Alex, Dariush, and Zhenzhen get separated from the rest of their group on the first day and meet Gabriel, who just seems to appear out of the woods. But before the trio has time to sort out that mystery, their lives change forever.

The skies are filled with aliens and when the four kids return to the summer camp, everyone is gone. The rest of the camp already evacuated and before the kids can do the same, a capsule crash lands nearby. A dying astronaut from the International Space Station is carrying a key and tells the kids that if someone can get it 70 miles to the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, the world might be saved. And so the quartet begin their quest to make it happen. Luckily without asking the obvious question: why is the only key that can save the world on the space station?

Like a classic 1980s kids movie, there is a lot of humor and more pop culture references than you'll find in a Dennis Miller monologue. The script by Zack Stentz is compactly written, without an unnecessary scene or unneeded character. Like a great Speilberg film, there are just enough pratfalls and physical jokes to break the tension without having any impact on the breakneck pace. It's a teen movie that isn't dumbed down or too far removed from real life. "Rim Of The World" is the first great summer movie of 2019, even if it is exclusive to Netflix.

McG's directing style can best be described as "balls-out action, with the occasional breather" and that certainly fits what you'll see in this movie. This action sequences are confident and framed in the best possible way for each scene. McG does this type of film as well as anyone working today and every bit of his skill is evident in the final product.

I also have to compliment the casting people for "Rim Of The World," who were able to put together a quartet of actors I'd love to see in another film. When Miya Cech's Zhenzhen is originally introduced, she comes off as another one of those "uncomfortably wise beyond her years" movie characters. But she quickly sheds that skin and her on-camera chemistry with Alex (Jack Gore) is one of the best things about the movie.

Alex is a quiet, nervous kid who at first glance appears to be the typical nerdy kid who learns to face his fears. Writer Zack Stentz told me that in earlier versions of the script, Alex is written as being a high-functioning autistic boy who takes anxiety medicine. Glimpses of that early character are still in the movie and while I'm happy with the final results, I would've like to have seen that early Alex. But the emotional core of the movie is built around Alex and Jack Gore handles the challenge with confidence.

Alex and Zhenzhen are the primary focus of the group, but both Dariush (Benjamin Flores Jr.) and Gabriel (Alessio Scalzotto) get their moments to shine. The four actors mesh well together and their evolution into becoming friends in the midst of chaos is more than believable. It's a rare teen movie that features four kids that look and act like kids and not out-of-work teen models.

If I have one complaint about "Rim Of The World" is that given the lead actors are very young teens, I wouldn't have minded if the movie had dialed back on the jizz and dick jokes early on. There aren't many, but they seem out-of-place and provide for a couple of dissonant moments in an otherwise seamless action sequence.  And on a much pickier note, I would have liked to know a bit more about Zhenzhen's backstory and why she was so intent on making it to that cliff near the summer camp.

But those are minor quibbles and the bottom line is that "Rim Of The World" is the summer movie you've been missing for the past few years. It's innocent, action-packed fun starring some kids you'll learn to love. I don't say this lightly, but "Rim Of The World" is this generation's "Goonies." It's one of those rare Netflix films I wouldn't mind seeing in a movie theater just so I could hear the laughs and squeals from the audience as we all experience it together.