Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ansel Elgort, Chloë Grace Moretz, Catherine Keener, David Strathairn, Terry Kinney, Cory Hardrict, Danny Flaherty, Victor Williams, Tessa Albertson, Philip Ettinger, Karina Deyko, Jared Kemp, Adrian M. Mompoint
Written by: Steven Knight, Sacha Gervasi, based on a novel by Sam Munson
Directed by: Sacha Gervasi
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic content including teen sexuality, drug material, brief violence and strong language
Running Time: 85
Date: 12/08/2017

November Criminals (2017)

2 Stars (out of 4)

11th Hour

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's not terrible, and contains likable characters, but much like its vague title, this teen crime thriller, which veers tentatively through comedy and romance, never finds its center, nor its voice.

In November Criminals, Addison (Ansel Elgort) is a high school senior in Washington D.C. who does things the old-fashioned way (listening to cassette tapes and using a pager) and hopes to get into the University of Chicago. He goes for coffee with his best friend Phoebe, nicknamed "Digger" (Chloe Grace Moretz). There, he chats with Kevin (Jared Kemp), who works as a barista, and who trades books with Addison.

Later, Digger tells Addison she'd like to try sex for the first time, with him. But while they are doing that, Kevin is shot and killed by a mysterious gunman. Since Addison is still recovering from the recent death of his own mother, he becomes obsessed with solving Kevin's murder. As Addison's dad (David Strathairn), Digger, and Digger's mom (Catherine Keener) try to protect him, Addison finds himself in a world of dangerous drug dealers.

Elgort (fresh from Baby Driver) and Moretz make a great, cute, smart couple, and their scenes together are quite nice; their talk is honest and sweet. And, as their single parents, Strathairn and Keener are nicely sympathetic. But these scenes don't mesh with the serious accounts of murder and drug dealing that follow.

Director Sacha Gervasi, who made the great documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil and the entertaining biopic Hitchcock, seems to have lost his way, and never establishes a firm or confident tone. The crime scenes are wishy-washy and hold back from true danger, but are just dark enough to sour the otherwise light tone.

Scenes of teens involved with drugs are treated matter-of-factly and without concern, and crucial, visual moments occur offscreen; it's almost numbing. Eventually, November Criminals just evaporates, less diverting than it is disposable.

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