Movie Review: The King of Staten Island

There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who think Pete Davidson is funny and those who don’t. Although I fall solidly in the latter group, I was prepared to give the SNL cast member who might be more famous for his off-screen antics another chance and watch his latest film, THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND.

Produced and directed by Judd Apatow (TRAINWRECK; THIS IS 40; KNOCKED UP; THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN), who also shares screenwriting credit with Davidson and former SNL writer Dave Sirus, THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND tells the rambling, coming-of-age story of Scott Carlin (Davidson), a 24-year-old slacker who dreams of one day opening a tattoo parlor/restaurant in his beloved New York borough. Heavily tattooed Scott (like Davidson) lost his firefighter father on 9/11, a tragedy he never seemed to get past. His mother, Margie (Marisa Tomei, the new SPIDER-MAN franchise; AVENGERS: ENDGAME; THE BIG SHORT; MY COUSIN VINNY), is an ER nurse (like Davidson’s mom) at a local hospital and she, too, has put her life on hold for the past 17 years. When Scott’s younger sister Claire (Maude Apatow, THIS IS 40; KNOCKED UP) goes off to college and she meets divorced firefighter Ray Bishop (Bill Burr, WALK OF SHAME; DATE NIGHT), Margie decides it time to make some changes in their lives. Scott, though, isn’t quite ready for change.

Like the movie 8 MILE that presented audiences with a version of rapper Eminem, THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND shows us a version of Davidson and, quite frankly, it’s not that interesting. Scott is a complete reprobate so it’s difficult to garner any empathy for him. Nevertheless, Ray does, strangely enough, and he says as much when he tells Margie that Scott is “a great kid” barely 24 hours after Scott does something that probably should have earned him a criminal record, assuming he doesn’t already have one. Hey, Ray! Scott is anything but great and he’s not a kid! None of the mature adults in the film seem to mind that Scott spends his days hanging out in his mom’s basement getting high with his homies, banging his long-time friend Kelsey (Bel Powley, THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL) on the sly, and practicing his rough-and-ready tattooing skills on anyone who gets within three feet of him. Yet Ray is quite ready to trust Scott to walk his two young kids to school in the morning and give him a job at the firehouse cleaning the toilets. Suddenly Scott learns responsibility and, guess what, he’s actually good at it. Maybe his cockamamie tattoo parlor/restaurant idea isn’t so far-fetched now. Oh, please. Scott’s redemption is completely unearned.

Is Scott the “king of Staten Island”? Probably not. More than likely, Davidson et al are referring to Scott’s late father and all the firefighters who are the film’s real heroes. If that makes Scott the prince then, heaven help the rest of Staten Island. Like some presidential princelings who are in the news far too much these days, Scott deserves nothing for his efforts other than a good swift kick in the backside. THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND isn’t a complete washout though. Young Apatow and especially Powley are the film’s two bright spots. Kelsey is a far more interesting character than Scott. Davidson and company would have been better off writing her story and calling it The Queen of Staten Island.

But here’s the rub: Most critics and audiences love this film, probably because they love Davidson. After watching this movie, I still don’t get his appeal.

THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND is available on demand from all the major streaming services.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, June 19th, 8:30 am HK time!

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