Three parents team up to stop their daughters from losing their virginity on prom night. It sounds like a comedy premise that got lost in the 1980s somewhere, yet here it is in 2018, in a very R-rated film directed by Kay Cannon, the writer of the Pitch Perfect series, and coproduced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. The coyly titled Blockers gives its hoary material a progressive, 21st-century spin, and while it's far from a comedy milestone, it's a decent diversion.
These parents don't expect their daughters to remain chaste until marriage, yet each has a distinct — if not exactly defensible — motive for derailing the three girls' pact to have sex on prom night. While bearish family man Mitchell (John Cena) can't bear to think of some lout pawing at his precious offspring (Geraldine Viswanathan), single helicopter mom Lisa (Leslie Mann) is terrified of anything that might break her death grip on her daughter (Kathryn Newton). To her mind, sex and acceptance to a distant college are equally threatening.
The third member of the parent trio, ne'er-do-well divorced dad Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), barely knows his daughter (Gideon Adlon). But he's somehow correctly intuited that she's a closeted lesbian, and he wants her to stay true to herself and not lose it to her endearingly dweeby boyfriend (Jimmy Bellinger).
Or something like that. Truth be told, Hunter is really just along for the ride because the uptight Lisa and Mitchell need a man-child to serve as their foil. Having discovered the pact via a texting snafu, the three pursue their children from prom to after-party, encountering obstacles that range from horny suburbanites to high school jocks who've found an unsettling new way to chug beer.
Most of these slapsticky set pieces are too belabored to be funny, with the exception of an inventive one toward the end. It doesn't help that the screenplay requires each actor to strike the same note over and over: Cena is blustery, Mann is high-strung, Barinholtz is goofy. (Despite some valiant efforts to flesh out the last one's character, he never becomes the boundary-pushing wild card the movie needs.)
Blockers would quickly get tiresome if it didn't regularly leave the parents to show us the daughters' point of view, giving equal time to both generations. Just as their elders have various reasons for "blocking," each girl has her own motive to get it on, ranging from the romantic to the frivolous. The movie is funniest when it rambles far afield from those '80s-style archetypes of horndog teenagers. Viswanathan's character, for instance, has less interest in her carelessly chosen date (Miles Robbins) than in the drug-laced concoctions he keeps serving her, which he describes with the zeal of a white-tablecloth chef.
Online porn has removed the mystique from sex, and these kids seem less excited about having it than about discussing it in elaborate emoji exchanges, which their parents struggle to decode with equal fervor. This is one of those warm-and-fuzzy crude comedies, and in the end, everybody learns something, whether it's to wait for the right person or to let go.
For all the snickering, prurient potential of its premise, Blockers never gets truly dark or outrageous; the twin pacts that could have broken up these families end up bringing them back together. The adults even experience their own rite of passage and learn to bond over something besides parental woes. If it's possible to make a sweet, sex-positive comedy about parents cock-blocking their own children, this is it.