The King of Staten Island (R) ★★½

Pete Davidson stars in “The King of Staten Island.” (Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.)

Pete Davidson Proves He Can Hold His Own

Judd Apatow has easily been one of the best producers of comedy for the last 15 years due to his knack for spotting talent. Apatow famously discovered a number of big stars in his brilliant, but short-lived TV series “Freaks and Geeks” (1999-2000). He had the foresight to give Steve Carrell (40 Year-Old Virgin), Seth Rogen (Knocked Up), and Amy Schumer (Trainwreck) their first shot at leading their own movies.

Thus far, Apatow’s films have been mostly successful, so audiences may assume his latest pairing with Pete Davidson (“Saturday Night Live”), The King of Staten Island, would continue the streak. Unfortunately, this dramedy, which he co-wrote with Davidson and with whom the film is loosely based, needed more time at the drawing board. Although it has its moments, its plot and supporting characters are not very well conceived and it needlessly runs too long. It is a lackluster entry for Apatow. If audiences are looking for a summer comedy to provide some laughs, they may be disappointed with the King of Staten Island, where the humorous moments are drowned out by a fairly melancholy tone. That said, however, this entire summer has lacked sports, dining, gatherings, and most importantly for moviegoers, new releases in theaters, so don’t completely cross it off of your at-home moving viewing list.

Marisa Tomei and Pete Davidson star in “The King of Staten Island.” (Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.)

The film itself centers on Scott Carlin (Pete Davidson), a young, 20-something who lives at home with his mom (Marisa Tomei, Spider-Man: Far From Home, 2019) in Staten Island and struggles with depression. His ambitious younger sister, Claire (Maude Apatow, Assassination Nation, 2018) is heading off for college, whereas Scott didn’t even finish high school and doesn’t have a steady job. He spends his nights with similar-minded friends and has a secret physical relationship with childhood friend Kelsey (Bel Powley, The Morning Show, 2019). Although Scott doesn’t have a steady job, he is a decent artist and constantly talks about opening up his own tattoo parlor. Scott practices giving his friends (and sometimes strangers) tattoos. This hobby is very believable as Scott / Pete Davidson is covered in tattoos himself. Unfortunately, Scott’s depression overpowers any professional ambitions. He even has borderline suicidal thoughts. Much of this dark space stems from the fact that he still hasn’t come to terms with his father’s death in the line of duty as a fireman (like Davidson’s real-life dad during 9/11) when Scott was just 10 years old.

Despite his constant depression, Scott doesn’t want to change the status quo of living at home without real responsibilities. One day, a fateful decision to give a younger kid (who he had just met) a tattoo, sets off a chain of events, which leads to his mom, Margie to have her first boyfriend since becoming widowed, Ray (played by comedian Bill Burr). Like his deceased dad, Ray is a fireman, which angers Scott and despite Ray’s friendly overtures, Scott is determined to push him out of the picture and return everything to the state of things, but that, of course, comes with a cost and audiences are along for the ride.

Bel Powley and Pete Davidson star in “The King of Staten Island.” (Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.)

Some of the best scenes involved Davidson dealing with the loss of his father at a young age when he makes friends with several firefighters. His soulful performance helps hold the choppy film together. These scenes work much better than the subplots with Scott’s deadbeat friends, cracking ‘jokes’ or randomly trying to rob a pharmacy for prescription medications. The storyline with Kelsey as the romantic interest gets short-changed, too, as far as screen time or plot development.

Due to the current state of the world, the unprecedented pandemic and limited releases, The King of Staten Island will probably be one of the better films to be released this summer. The movie has its few laugh-out-loud moments – mostly what is shown in the trailers – but, overall most of the comedic scenes fall flat. The film does not work as a drama either, so audiences may feel it’s a half-baked dramedy.

Bottom Line: As more films get delayed due to the global pandemic, it’s going to be slim pickings for a while. That said, given the limited competition, The King of Staten Island may be the best new comedy you could see this summer.

Credits: Directed by: Judd Apatow; Written by: Judd Apatow, Pete Davidson, Dave Sirus

Starring: Pete Davidson (Scott Carlin), Marisa Tomei (Margie Carlin), Bill Burr (Ray Bishop), Steve Buscemi (Papa), Maude Apatow (Claire Carlin), Bel Powley (Kelsey), Ricky Velez (Oscar), Lou Wilson (Richie), Moises Arias (Igor), Carly Aquilino (Tara)

Studio: Universal Pictures

Running Time: 136 minutes

Jessica DeLong © June 16, 2020