The school year hasn't gone well - assignments missed, opportunities to ask out that "special girl" botched. And for Joe Toy (Nick Robinson), the summer ahead doesn't look much better.
He shares a house with his had-enough-of-your-nonsense widowed dad (Nick Offerman), a guy who inspires fear - and sarcasm.
Joe wrecks Dad's dates, Dad curses Joe out for all those peccadilloes that "aren't cute anymore."
Joe's pal Patrick (Gabriel Basso) is a nervous wreck, dealing with smothering parents (Megan Mullally is his hilarious mom) and his own dread of the summer to come.
So Patrick is down with Joe's craziest idea - running away from home, building a shack in the woods and "living off the land." With their crazy not-quite-pal Biaggio (Moises Arias), they find a remote spot where nobody'll find them - but a spot not so remote that there isn't a Boston Market close by, should living off the land not work out.
If they don't starve or run out of cash, if their parents or the cops or the communitywide search parties don't find them, they'll be "The Kings of Summer," masters of their fate and their domain. Won't all the other kids be jealous?
A TV writer and an online Funny or Die vet concocted this amusing, sentimental "Superbad" with less edge, a teen boys' fantasy, roughing it, impressing the girls and coming of age.
The leads are pleasant enough. Arias goes way out there for laughs as the clumsy, daffy shouldn't-play-with-sharp-objects Biaggio. But the adults all but steal the show from the kids. Offerman gives Joe's dad an acerbic, ticking-time-bomb quality. You never know when he'll blow - at the kid, the cops who can't find the kid, or the doofus delivering wonton soup that doesn't meet his approval. Mullally (Offerman's real-life wife) plays against type as a goody two-shoes mom who has never heard a cross word from her kid and wouldn't tolerate it if she did.
For an R-rated teen comedy, "The Kings of Summer" is an awfully nostalgic one, with old-fashioned comic rituals, an "Our Gang"-"Andy Griffith Show"-style kids' construction project and parents who have the same problems as their kids but eventually realize it.
"Now, it's just the two of us," Joe's dad confesses at one point. "I'm afraid I broke him."
"Kings" adds up to a summer movie that staggers down that fine line between sentimental and snarky, a tale of first love that manages more charm than any R-rated movie about horny teens has a right to.