Like delicate items nestled in a long-buried time capsule, Estlin Feigley’s “The Stream” conjures a sweet nostalgia for a bygone era. But its story, woven around five young friends embarking on a pint-size mission, may connect with a contemporary audience because of the tender ways it touches on adolescent milestones.
It’s summer 1981, and Ernest Terry (Jacob M. Williams) — like most boys his age — is obsessing over George Lucas’s “Star Wars” saga. In the woods outside Ernest’s neighborhood, capture-the-flag contests escalate into sprawling Jedi battles, with bright yellow Wiffle ball bats substituting for lightsabers. But when a bully snaps Ernest’s already-damaged “weapon” in half, our hero and his friends accept a mission: Follow a nearby stream to the town mall, buy a new bat and return home before their parents realize they’re missing.
Feigley, in essence, has made a family-friendly version of Rob Reiner’s “Stand by Me.” Awkward pre-teen characters wrestle with small crushes, big imaginations and equivalent coming-of-age obstacles on a lazy summer afternoon. Even the structures are comparable, with an older version of the main character narrating our action as he fondly reflects on his childhood memories. (“The Stream” uses Rainn Wilson of “The Office” instead of Richard Dreyfuss, but the overall effect remains the same). The language isn’t harsh and the stakes aren’t high, though, so “The Stream” keeps its excitement — and entertainment — levels hovering around medium heat.
As much as “The Stream” pays lip service to the legendary “Star Wars” franchise, the movie more closely resembles Lucas’s “American Graffiti,” another period piece that draws inspiration from a well-defined wedge of pop culture. One could even argue that “Stream” is guilty of trying too hard to remind us at every turn that it’s set in 1981. As if the fashion choices and incessant “Star Wars” references aren’t enough, there are impromptu singalong sequences to Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock n’ Roll” and jokes about Timex watches taking a licking while continuing to tick.
There’s a charitable aspect to “The Stream” that’s worth noting. Eighty percent of the movie’s proceeds will benefit Boys & Girls Clubs of America. So Feigley — knowing his adventure must appeal to families and younger children — labors to ensure that “The Stream” remains cute, simple and completely disinterested in developing an edge. At the end of the day, the movie’s limitations keep its aspirations in check. It’s safe for everyone, but inspirational for only a few.
O’Connell is a freelance writer.
PG. At Regal Magestic Stadium 20 and UA Snowden Square Stadium 14. Contains some bullying, brief smoking, rude humor and obscenity. 82 minutes.