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Roger Moore, McClatchy Newspapers, Published June 28 2012

Review: ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ vintage Wes Anderson, but not one of his best

Wes Anderson, the cinema’s Tsar of Twee, takes on young-younger-youngest love and making rebellious square pegs fit into round holes with “Moonrise Kingdom,” his latest venture into the dark and the daft.

And if it’s not as deft as his most adorable confections (“The Royal Tenen-baums,” “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”), it’s still got plenty to chew on and chuckle over for initiates in the Cult of Wes.

It’s 1965, and orphaned Sam (Jared Gilman) is odd-man out at Scout camp. So the smart-but-”troubled” Sam takes the wood lore he’s learned over the summer and makes his escape. He can’t get far. Camp Ivanhoe is on remote Penzance Island off the coast of New England.

But then, he doesn’t want to go far. He’s meeting up with Suzy (Kara Hayward), his pen-pal love who is quietly revolting against her own family on the other end of the island. Her lawyer-parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray) are fit to be tied. Sam’s Scoutmaster (a chain-smoking Edward Norton) organizes Khaki Scout search parties. The other Khaki Scouts – Lazy Eye, Redford, etc., who don’t like Sam – want to know, “Are we allowed to use force?”

Suzy’s mom is carrying on with the island’s sole police officer (Bruce Willis). And, as the narrator (Bob Balaban, a perfect surrogate for Anderson) informs us, one of the biggest storms of the last half of the last century is bearing down on them all.

Let the wild rumpus start.

The young couple camp out, with Suzy reading from her favorite fantasy novels and playing her favorite French chanteuse on a battery-powered record player. Enterprising Sam impresses her with his scouting skills: “Watch out for turtles. They’ll bite you if you put your finger in their mouths!”

Suzy packed her kitten in her dad’s fishing creel. Anderson, who co-wrote this, must have loved how that looked on the page – “Kitten pokes head through the creel.”

The adults get frantic, the storm rolls in, the kids have their violent moments and their acts of remorse.

Often, somebody says something clever or something that plays clever because of the way the line is acted and the scene is edited.

“Does it concern you that your daughter has run away from home?”

“That’s a loaded question.”

“Moonrise” is an uneasy blend of winking nostalgia (the mock militarism of Scout camp), innocent first love remembered and sentimentalizing the “different.” It’s very much an adult film. Sam does water-color nudes of Suzy, and the film pairs up these 12 year-olds in sexual situations that have them in their underwear. Anderson may not have thought of it this way, but that stuff plays as faintly creepy, no matter how innocent his intentions.

His love of ad-hoc families – creating community out of the people that are available – and the DIY look to the thing, along with the deadpan presence of Murray and Jason Schwartzman (very funny as a supposed adult who runs the supply store at a nearby camp for older kids) mark this as distinctly Andersonian. No, he couldn’t make these kids real Boy Scouts, so these boys have uniforms that look like the filmmaker’s aunt sewed them, and the patches on them.

I’ve always loved his droll sense of the silly, the way Anderson counter-points the goofy happenings on the screen with old Hank Williams tunes – “Kawliga” for woodlands adventure scenes, “Cold Cold Heart” for a break-up moment.

The larger message packed into these 94 minutes is in the exchange between Suzy’s quarreling parents:

“We’re all they’ve got, Walt.”

“It’s not enough.”

But that’s true of the movie, too. When Anderson misses the mark – in “Darjeeling Limited” or “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” – he’s like the Coen brothers in an off year or Woody Allen in a bad decade, an overly precious artist giggling at his own jokes.

"Moonrise Kingdom"

West Acres 14

2 stars

Time: 1:34

Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and smoking