The breakthrough success of movies such as "Juno" inspires a legion of titles trying to capture the same fervor. For every "Juno" there are dozens of indie wannabes, struggling every year like so many salmon swimming upstream, only to die long before anyone has the chance to hear of them. In survival of the fittest, "Rocket Science" deserves not to make it. Affected and feckless, the film is twice cursed, trying too hard to cover a subject that no one cares about.
The movie was written and directed by "Spellbound" documentarian Jeffrey Blitz, who seems to have a fascination with awkward kids onstage. It's about Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson), who, despite a severe stutter, is encouraged by his high school's debate champion (Anna Kendrick) to join the team (though we're never totally sure why). Guy gets crush; girl uses guy (though we're never totally sure how); guy tries to get revenge. He fails. So does this awkward movie.
Mean-spirited until the sappy ending, "Rocket Science" is supposed to be a comedy. Most of the jokes fall flat, if you can in fact tell which parts of the movie are intended to be funny. "Rocket Science" is one of those movies that insists its story is about real life, yet refuses to be tied down to mundane Earth. Hence the reason all characters must be quirky, everything they say cute. The problem, as written by Blitz, is that all the characters are simply kooky, everything they say obnoxious.
"Rocket Science" works only as a cautionary tale, though not as it may have been intended. Blitz, so tickled by his zany characters, has overlooked just about every story element that would make us care about them. When the credits roll, you don't know Hal, his bully of a brother, his spaced-out shrink, manipulating love interest or anyone else. You know only the goofy things they do and say and hope like mad you can forget. (R)